“If time is really only a fourth dimension of space … why has it always been regarded as something different?”
It’s less than a minute into Jay Berd’s “Overtime” when you hear the aforementioned soundbite. Deep stuff? Yes. But in reality, the notion of time — beyond a fourth dimension — is something that’s on the local rapper’s mind throughout most all of these 11 tracks. And even if it wasn’t on showcase here, it’s a concept impossible to ignore while considering the guy, who is one of the most “veteran” veteran hip-hop artists around. At this point, he’s forgotten more about the local rap scene than most listeners probably know currently.
Such is what makes “Overtime” feel more like a victory lap than it does a coming out party. Still, Berd has reason to celebrate: Not only is this a deliciously retrofitted collection of songs that celebrate a simpler, more accessible time in the music, but … well … it also marks the release he’ll be showcasing when he takes the stage at The Anthem in D.C. Friday night, opening for the legendary Black Star. This set being a callback to a more innocent — and some would say fruitful — time cements the artist’s place on stage next to legends like Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli.
And at one point in time, maybe either of those hip-hop icons could have dropped a verse on the remix of a song like “Cassettes.” Reflecting on those fascinatingly tiny pieces of electronic square, Berd does the decade of the 1990s justice. With a groove as charming as it is jangly, the rapper cites everything from rewinding to fast-forwarding to Maxell to Memorex, climaxing with perhaps the most endearing thought a record this side of TRL has ever offered: “Singles had the instrumental, those were the days.”
Not only does Berd reflect well, but he also knows something about the purpose of a hook, both musically and otherwise. “Cassettes” features a bevy of Berds offering up the chorus while other tracks have notably valuable guest spots featuring artists who step up in the hook game. Seez Mics stops by “Write Of Way” to add just a touch of aggression along with a flow that fits perfectly on top of Jay’s monotone approach. Each player clearly understands the value in tone, and the combination of as much amounts to memorable results.
But “hook” doesn’t just have to mean “chorus” in the world of Jay Bird; rather, another, more prominent hook throughout all of “Overtime” is the rapper’s decision to refrain from using swear words. A novel idea in modern day hip-hop, it forces him to go the cerebral assassin route rather than use a bludgeoning method that can quickly become all too played out. It makes a line like, “I hold court like I was subpoenaed to attend” shine in ways it might otherwise not.
That phrase comes from one of the set’s highlights, the Upgrade collab “Moonwalker.” With a chorus that sounds almost too much like Eminem, it’s easily the most complete song here. Centered around a clever play on the iconic dance move that Michael Jackson made so popular so long ago, it combines a slightly menacing beat with a laid-back ethos that make the dichotomy not only work, but thrive. Plus, with no swearing allowed, Berd makes his points via attitude and confidence.
Attitude and confidence are in ample availability elsewhere, too. “Omaha,” a nod to the Peyton Manning zeitgeist moment from a few years ago, sees the rapper equate his skills on the mic with an array of athletic assessments, announcing, “I got a lotta plans on this planet/I like to travel, I can’t keep my pivot planted.” Laid down on top of the smoothest groove on the record, it sets the stage perfectly for a near-perfect album. Or, as he so eagerly explains, “I love it when it works out like I planned it.”
The thing is, with “Overtime,” it does. Right after Berd provides that proclamation, a spoken word track commences with him riffing on a music video shoot and how he should dress up like “old people, but still doing the same kind of things,” and so on and so forth. Everything he does, he does with a wink and a nod, which not only makes him endearing, but it also makes him someone to whom attention deserves to be paid.
And regardless of if “Overtime” means he’s earned a few more minutes in the game than he thinks he deserves, or if it means he’s simply over the idea of time being an issue in the hip-hop community, or if it means something entirely different from either of these possibilities, one thing is remains clear, his fourth dimension of space probably won’t be running out any time soon.
*** 3 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 ***