I’ll come out and say it; I have usually dismissed underground hip-hop. Before this album I’m about to review, I’d say that I would probably listen to an album from an artist I know that has been heavily criticized than a critically acclaimed underground one from an artist I’ve never heard of before.
However, Sorry I’m Late changed my entire perspective on that. I gained interest in checking the album out after surfing through various hip-hop sites and seeing the features list with names such as Joell Ortiz, Nottz and Skyzoo rapping side-by-side with Baltimore rapper John Regan. Again, like most underground rappers I’ve never heard any of his work before, but after his debut album, I am officially a fan.
Regan has actually been working with his manager, Culture VI Records founder Wil Loesel, since he was 15. After nine years of ups and downs of which he brings to the forefront in some of his rhymes, the now 24-year old artist was ready to put his name out there with his debut.
The opening track, Sorry I’m Late, sets the scene for the entire LP. Over a chill beat produced by YZ lead by guitars and drums, Regan uses his verses to apologize to everyone for being, well, late. (As if the album and track name didn’t give it away.) The drums and guitars get heavier in the next track, Breath of Fresh Air, as Regan pits himself against the mainstream, claiming that he is a breath of fresh air in comparison to his competition. (As if the title of this track didn’t give it away either.)
One of the album’s standout tracks gives Regan his chance to work with one of hip-hop’s heavyweights, Joell Ortiz. Yesterday has both artists discussing their pasts behind another YZ beat (he produces or co-produces 10 of the 14 songs) that features a simple, yet beautiful piano melody along with the guitar riffs that are found throughout the album. Unlike most high-profile guest appearances that overshadow their counterpart, Regan stays toe-to-toe with Ortiz as both of them spit excellent verses. Meylin lends her vocals for the hook and makes the song that much better.
She Loves Me…Not has Regan reminiscing on an old flame over a beat that features the guitars more so than the other songs. Drew Hudson comes in with a solid guest effort, but overall the song is just that, solid; it doesn’t stand out in any way to me. However, the throbbing bass from Nobody’s Somebody is a very nice change of pace from the first four tracks, as Regan and Nottz (who along with 88-Keyz produced this beat) speak about their outsider statuses in the hip-hop game.
All I Got to Give features Marsha Ambrosius and it’s Regan’s most heart-felt track so far. His lyrical content focuses on some real-life situations he’s faced and the struggle he had to go through during those times in his life. The line at the end of the second verse in which he was speaking about his grandmother’s death gave me goosebumps the first time I heard it (“The straight face she had gave me the shivers/Made me want to crawl into that coffin with her”).
Paint The World is a shout out to Regan’s graffiti-artist days, while She & H.E.R. has a old-school theme to it. The latter track discusses Regan’s relationship with hip-hop, painting the portrait of a woman in the listener’s mind. This track pays ode to Common’s “I Used To Love H.E.R.” from 1994, in the sense that the artist refers to hip-hop as a woman and makes it seem like that’s who they are talking about the entire track. Then 9:57 Interlude has Regan admitting that hip-hop is not what comes first in his life, which shows the maturity of the 24-year old husband and father.
The album’s best track (and frankly one of the best tracks I’ve heard this year) comes next in Suicide ediciuS. Needlz handles the production in this one, bringing haunting strings to the forefront as Regan takes the listener along on a journey that brings chills after every bar. The first verse has him talking about his suicide, but then he flips it in reverse on the second verse as the whole suicide process is rewound, giving Regan a second chance to live his life. A creative concept to say the least, but it’s executed perfectly.
One Day In Heaven features an awesome guest spot from Skyzoo, as he uses his verse to explain his emotions during 9/11, when his mom was in the Twin Towers. After not being able to get an answer on his phone numerous times, he gets worried but is relieved when she calls back and says she’s alright. Stars has similar subject matter to 9:57 Interlude, as Regan talks about how he balances real life and his music career.
Devil’s Eye, the first bonus track, has the darkest beat on the album. Regan speaks about the devil trying to influence him, like he has an angel on his one shoulder and a hellion on the other. The final bonus track, Up There With You, is another good track but doesn’t stand out in any way.
Sorry I’m Late doesn’t sound like an independent album. With stellar production that doesn’t overpower Regan’s deep rhymes, the little-known Baltimore artist created one of the better debut albums I’ve heard in a while. Don’t apologize for being late John, this was well worth the wait.
1.) Sorry I’m Late – 4
2.) Breath Of Fresh Air – 3.5
3.) Yesterday ft. Joell Ortiz & Meylin – 5
4.) She Loves Me…Not ft. Drew Hudson – 3
5.) Nobody’s Somebody ft. Nottz – 4
6.) All I Got To Give ft. Marsha Ambrosius – 4.5
7.) Paint The World ft. PackFM – 3.5
8.) She & H.E.R. – 4
9.) 9:57 Interlude – 4
10.) Suicide ediciuS – 5
11.) One Day In Heaven ft. Skyzoo & Jaiden – 4
12.) Stars ft. Nicholas Howard – 4
13.) Devil’s Eye ft. Ill Bill & Juganot – 3.5
14.) Up There With You ft. Sha Stimuli, Naledge of Kidz in the Hall & Wayna – 3