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RAW MATERIAL (2001)
Raw Material - Click to view! Simplicity and humility are two words that characterize the Atlanta duo Mars Ill. In just over a year, Soulheir the Manchild and DJ Dust have taken a huge bite out of the industry. And while we did not get to see the backbreaking effort that went into their work, we are enjoying the fruits of their labour. Raw Material is the major market's first taste of a crew that is very blessed and greatly skilled. To dissect Raw Material, we will look at three contributing elements: emcee Manchild, producer Dust and the guest performers.

Soulheir the Manchild has got game. The man captures you from beginning to end on this incredible disc. Manchild spits this opening line from the first track "Mars Ill", "Yo, put reverb on my vocals / I don't wanna repeat myself." With wit, humour, passion, conviction and knowledge, Soulheir comes off as real. He's a man never willing to give into industry pressure, and never backs down. Line after line, verse after verse, Manchild comes correct, and we like it. He describes the many faces of his beloved art form in "Sphere of Hip-Hop pt. 2", defends his hip-hop expression in "Unsound" and explains to us the emotional difficulty of touring in "Touch and Go." While, it is extremely difficult to highlight Manchild's work on Raw Material, there are two songs that stand out. The Scott Matelic produced "Love's Not" is a marvelous social commentary that provides a new perspective for those who are quick to point out the faults of our world. Soulheir teams up with Rahlo (from the Black Soil Project) to provide clear pictures of what love isn't.

"You kill it like strychnine when you treat it like a cancer / Can't feel it so you spend time seek pleasure not the answer / In a club peeping dancers in a jacked up type of manner / Stuffing G-strings with dollar bills that should be buying your baby's pampers / Love's Not - waking up with different women every morning / Love's Not - beating it down for nine months with child forming / Love's Not - leaving your wife and seeds with no warning / Love's Not - and when it's raining it's pouring."

The intelligent writing and clever delivery make this song an instant classic and an excellent candidate for bible study material. "Who Will Answer?" features the Remnant Militia. In this song, the Mars Ill emcee gets surprisingly personal and emotional in discussing his spiritual life. "(I) Deserve 10,000 lashes from 10,000 fascists for my sin / To burn like 10,000 matches to enter my world / Where I do what I hate / And the man I want to be escapes me / And I wonder to myself was God tripping when he made me? / Am I off or am I crazy / Am I lost or am I lazy?" The writing on Raw Material is this powerful throughout the album. An entire review could be written on the genius of Greg Owens (a.k.a. Manchild), instead you are left with an urgent recommendation to give this disc just one spin - so that you can recognize the skills.

However, in light of this talent, producer DJ Dust does not get overshadowed. Along with his two "Indulgent Instrumentals", Dust has some fun with the turntables. "Send A Man" is a humorous interlude where Dust splices together a challenge stemming from an old David and Goliath cartoon, calling out other DJs to battle him. "We'll Live Underground" is nothing short of incredible. The liner notes dub this track "a turntable experiment." The talented Nate Correna (a.k.a. Dust) layers record after record from Bill Cosby to Stevie Ray Vaughn, creating sounds that blend into a marvelous collage, leaving your mouth hanging open while you nod your head. Dust's contribution on the tables adds a great deal to each song, but it is the beat making that Correna quickly makes himself known for. While there is a tendency for slow beats, there is enough diversity to please. Dust moves quickly between strings, soulful guitars and solid bass lines. Head nodders include, "Fade To Black", "Mars Ill" and "Compound Fractures." Other tracks with an underground feel are "Touch and Go," "Love's Not" and "Monotone" - a brilliant song with hypnotizing scratching and an eerie yet enjoyable piano sample. If Dust continues to produce like this, it will make every Mars Ill release for the next five years a must have.

While these guys are good, they also enlist help from some excellent musicians. Scott Matelic is brought in to produce "Love's Not" and "Rap Fans." And the Phonetic Composition team of Freddie Bruno and Playdough produce "Black Market," which also features Playdough. A couple members of the L.A. Symphony team also guest star. Sharlock Poems brings his unique voice to "Rap Fans" and Flynn performs very nicely on "Try Again." Rahlo demonstrates his writing talents with some very thoughtful verses on "Love's Not," "Try Again" and "Sounds of Music." Sev Statik appears courtesy of the Tunnel Rats on "Touch and Go" and Deepspace 5 member Sintax the Terrific guests on three songs including "Fade To Black."

There is so much to be said about Raw Material. It is evident that a lot of time and effort went into creating this project and the listeners are the ones who benefit. The unfortunate thing is, this group still suffers from a lack of recognition. However, more projects like this will ensure Mars Ill's success - people just need to recognize. You have been informed, go now and enjoy.
- Jon Corbin
July 2002
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