Ryan O’Neil sounds hungry. “I swear to God I thought hip hop was dead,” he asserts on the very first breath of The Adventures of The One Hand Bandit and The Slum Computer Wizard. It’s not a lament, mind you, not mournful. It’s more like relief — he heard the talk, explored the dilemma himself, and realized that it’s all bullshit.
O’Neil contributed to a few tracks on this year’s Brenner’s Breaks Vol. 1 mixtape (review), adding another element to what was mostly a showcase for producer 100dBs. Adventures, though, is entirely his beast. Stylish, rangy, eloquent, O’Neil touches on a number of different topics, over the typical variety of dBs’ diverse beats, and offers a consistent lyrical flair throughout the course of the album.
Things get particularly interesting in the album’s second half, when the duo both step their games up considerably. “NYC Burns” paints the Big Apple summertime like a modern-day Rockwell painting, “She Got A Body” drops sampled vocal stabs in the chorus like the Bomb Squad, and “Must Be Love” personifies the adoration of music like Common’s “I Used to Love HER.”
O’Neil’s impressive wordplay is most evident on “Paper Planes,” which uses paper as a symbol of both the naiveté of childhood and the jadedness of growing up. Over a touching beat that’s half Jackson 5 playfulness and sentimental piano twinkle, O’Neil hits hard a number of times – “I used to run just for fun / Now I hurry all the time,” “Innocence was bliss but maturity had found me / But now I kinda wish it didn’t / Because I’m conscious of the vicious system / That’s responsible for apathy and cynicism,” while offering vividly depicted memories of his childhood.
But there’s a sense of humor here, too. O’Neil playfully jabs at himself (“How many one-handed rappers are repping?”), turns a few phrases (“In the club tryin’ to make that ass clap / Nah, man, I’m past that / I’m tryin to see royalties from ASCAP”), and joins dBs in disguising raunchy sex-talk with a sweet, gentle hook and chorus in live favorite “Get Low.”
100dBs continues to progress as a producer, as well. The music nerd in him is endearing, as these tracks overflow with disparate influences and genuine enthusiasm. They’re also grandiose – the drums loom large and the choruses soar – but the production wisely serves as a backdrop for O’Neil, who has more than enough skill and charisma to carry the record.
Turns out, hip hop’s not dead. O’Neil solidifies this conclusion on the albums’ final track, the red-hot “100 MCs.” The Bandit discusses the magnetic draw that inspired him to rap, eventually leading to this – a smart, varied, and exciting album that should prevent anyone else from pursuing the genre’s big question. The answer is right here.