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Backbreakanomics - Click to view!The mission continues for Mars Ill. Since their smash debut Raw Material, labels and rumours of labels have come and gone. After finally settling with Gotee, heavy scrutiny awaited the sophomore project. Backbreakanomics is a statement that Mars Ill isn't easily swayed by the masses. This new work reveals clear direction and an even bolder message.

A sign of improvement is the focused topics the crew takes on. Dedicated fans will enjoy a reworking of the underground hit "My Life." "Afterlife," speaks to the group's progress through life's changes. Manchild's frustration with the poor quality of entertainment is addressed with "Enterchange." The dark story of a prisoner encountering Christ ("Inside Out") demonstrates a new wave of Manchild's emcee skills. The disc also provides the audience with suggestions for healthy living: "Freeze Framework" calls people to remove pride and admit their faults. "Sideline Speech" features Big Juss as the pair speak on critical cats that live life on the sidelines. Finally, "Next Door" sees Manchild waxing philosophic about human interaction. "I'm reminded of the wonder of this world in which we live / How we kill ourselves to have / But find freedom when we give." It's this delicate attack upon worldly forces that endears the listener to the record.

Behind the boards, Dust demonstrates incredible maturity in his production. The raging horns on "Breathe Slow" complement the fun hook. The boom-bap edge of "Planes and Trains" creates enough space for the differing styles of Pigeon John, Manchild and Blueprint. Dust consistently makes the neck work, from the homage to the old school ("Black Box Artist") to the layered drums and resonating percussion rolls of "Sideline Speech." The upbeat numbers "Enterchange" and "Freeze Framework" add some enjoyable flavour to the record. Musically, the duo continues to work well together as they explore many sides of the human experience in hip-hop.

The one major drawback to Backbreakanomics is that the album does not feel like a complete project. There are several standout tracks; however, the reply value of the album does not measure up to Raw Material. Yet, what is exciting is the amount of material Manchild engages the audience with. Christ is displayed in fuller measures, while never being overwhelming or forced. The crew is the boldest they have ever been in displaying their strong faith in Jesus. Listen to this album in the morning, and you'll be chewing on the lyrics as your head hits the pillow. That sort of depth is rarely seen and should be encouraged as Christians continue to strive for respect in the hip-hop game.
- Jon Corbin
January 2004
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