Intuition & Equalibrum - Intuition & Equalibrum

Intuition and Equalibrum’s self-titled effort is a unique take on introspective traditionalist hip-hop.

Additional Info

7.7

ALBUM: Intuition & Equalibrum

ARTIST: Intuition & Equalibrum

2014

Hip-Hop/Rap

It’s a well-known fact that most fiery twenty-somethings spend their thirties watching the kids chase each other around the yard, petting their golden retrievers, and worrying about how to pay their mortgages. Picket signs turn into picket fences, copies of The Communist Manifesto end up at the neighborhood yard sale, and endless cans of PBR are traded for homebrews. “Don’t trust anyone over thirty”, indeed. It’s a policy hip-hop took to heart long ago; everyone knows that most rappers over thirty are shadows of their former selves attempting to cash in on the aesthetics that once made them great. By and large, older rappers turn into has-beens, either releasing shitty sequels to their classic albums or boarding G550s into the sunset of obscurity.

Enter Intuition, claiming that he’s “Halfway to has-been, but yet I never was”. That idea forms the foundation for his latest self-titled effort with producer equalibrum, their first project since 2010’s Girls Like Me. In many ways, Intuition (birth name Lee Shaner) is reflecting back on his thirty-odd years of fucking up and getting the right results the wrong ways. Raised in North Pole, Alaska, Shaner moved to Los Angeles and became a fixture in the local music scene a little more than fifteen years ago. Since then he’s built himself into the scene brick by brick, both individually and with a variety of partnerships and side-projects, such as his hugely successful podcast Kinda Neat. Yet Intuition & Equalibrum finds him listless and lonely, unmarried and scared that he might’ve missed his best chances.

At a time in his life when his peers are getting married and giving up whiskey, Intuition is firmly planted in your living room, “Scuffing up your coffee table with my feet on top” (“Old Enough”). The album definitely benefits from his experienced hand; both his and Equalibrum’s contributions to the project are nothing if not polished. Almost every song is beautifully made, with snares carefully placed and verses delivered with the effortlessness of a man sitting on his porch and freestyling about the world outside his door. Intuition clearly spends a lot of his time drunkenly staring into the mirror—the album is extremely introspective, touching on ex-girlfriends, partying, and Intuition’s constant struggle to be a better man. Still, the record benefits from the laid back aesthetic so commonly associated with L.A. rap; despite Intuition’s claim that “Me can’t smoke the sensi, me gets paranoia”, the album ends up sounding like a soundtrack to contemplatively lighting up a blunt on a Sunday afternoon to kill your hangover.

A large part of that is Equalibrum’s brilliant work. An Connecticut native (born Mark Pawlak), he’s been providing beats to Intuition for over half a decade, quietly dropping thick, smoky beat tapes in the meantime. He executes his premise better than almost any producer you’ve ever heard—the production is classic boom bap, but every chop and kick drum somehow sounds brand new. Summery guitar and Rhodes licks flirt with airiness, but are always brought back to earth with the light weight of his drums. The result is buoyancy that gives his partner room to breathe, but never takes itself too seriously either. Vocal effects and synths are used sparingly and to great effect. It’s the Hip-hop equivalent to J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, with each filter sweep like a lens flare reminding you the world Equalibrum lives in can only barely fit in your headphones. The difference is here there are no gimmicks, just MPC traditionalism and pure skill.

The album is also mixed and mastered exceptionally well, to the point that it should be a textbook example of how to make great beats sound untouchable. Listen to the album in good headphones at your own risk; you might forget that Intuition isn’t actually in your room and call the police. There’s a lot to be said for the lo-fi aesthetic most modern engineers play to when mixing traditionalist rap records, but Equalibrum eschews it completely and makes sure every piano chord and hi-hat stays warm and crisp. It’s a great counterpoint to sonically thick beats like Madlib’s work on Pinata; here, less is almost always more.

As a master class in hip-hop technique, the album is very good. Unfortunately, classic rap albums excel both in and outside the classroom—this is where Intuition & Equalibrum falls short. The album’s biggest downfall is that it’s simply too one-note. Emotional ideas circle back around a little too clearly; one gets a sense that we’re not really getting Intuition’s raw feelings, but his polished thoughts on them. Despite so many of his songs revolving around depression and dysfunctional relationships, Intuition’s delivery always sounds like he’s keeping his head above water, and his rhymes always feel carefully edited. Similarly, Equalibrum’s beats are almost without exception relaxed, chop-heavy, summery joints between 80 and 90 bpm. This makes sense—they’ve spent years refining a particular aesthetic and want to show their best sides. But it does leave the listener with a feeling that this beautiful world they’ve constructed could be a film set, with something completely different behind the scenery than what you were expecting. Intuition & Equalibrum takes few risks, and at moments, it leads to the record feeling like a creative dead end. The best artists master their style and then subvert it, but these guys…just kind of go with it.

The exception that proves the rule is the penultimate track “Imagining”, Intuition’s tribute to his father, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. In “Imagining”, Intuition’s stream-of-consciousness writing filters through a confessional vibrancy unheard elsewhere on the album, on top of a beat simultaneously harder than granite and more delicate than woven gossamer. Intuition said on his Facebook page a few days ago that it’s still a hard song for him to listen to, and it shows in the best possible way. The risks taken here connect in a way far stronger than the rest of the album, making you wish the whole record were approached with this much gravitas. Regardless, Intuition & Equalibrum remains a great record for a relaxed Sunday afternoon. Make yourself a drink with whatever’s in your fridge and hit play as we guide you though.

"A deep breath, release pressure, now the weight is gone"

1. Weight Is Gone
An incredible intro. The beat is hypnotic, especially once Intuition starts rapping;Equalibrum does an incredible amount with a Rhodes and some drums. Intuition comes on the track as a man who knows his fan base has been waiting for this moment for years, his first line “I heard we got that shit that you’ve been waitin’ on”. There are a couple subtle hints at deeper themes, but for the most part he stays the calm elder statesman, maintaining that “I age gracefully/It’s probably cause I never felt the need to play make believe”.9.0
2. Ain’t the Blues
This may be the best beat on the album. The lyrics are nuanced, well structured, and delivered with a calm desperation. This is rap for thirty somethings who used to protest, but realized they could go insane thinking about all the ways the world is fucked up. “It’s the piece of paper that you got payin for school/Look at your feet and wonder who made your shoes/The feeling in your tummy knowing that money made the moves/But nah, this ain’t the blues”.8.5
3. Old Enough
The initial killing spree ends here, with a mildly irritating party cut. It feels like little more than a collection of punchlines, about half of which are really good. The beat is serviceable, too, but it’s a little hard to cheer on Intuition for being “old enough to buy his own whiskey” at thirty-plus, even if the line might have a wink and nod behind it.7.0
4. Best Fool
The chorus is amazing sonically, but the lyrics are pretty standard ‘rap about being a rapper’ fare. There aren’t any ideas here that aren’t presented in more interesting ways on other tracks. Nothing offensively bad either, but it ends up being rather forgettable in comparison to other songs.6.5
5. STFU
A short but well-done song about fights in relationships. In a cool take on a familiar topic, Intuition raps the entire song from the perspective of a girlfriend, listing all of the reasons why he’s a terrible boyfriend. It’s not transcendent, but the end is hilarious and the concept is great.7.0
6. Make Better
This is one of those glass-half-full rap songs about trying to be a better person in spite of your issues and stuff. Normally these get bogged down in clichés, and “Make Better” does get preachy at moments, but it’s irresistibly happy and the chorus makes you want to sing along. Definitely the song your local college radio station will be playing on repeat—heavily edited, of course.8.0
7. 1st Day of Summer
This song sounds like something A&Rs at major labels make rappers crank out in mid-May so that they can get the feel good hit of the summer. It comes complete with singy chorus, endlessly repetitive beat, boring narrative writing, and the phrase “first day of summer” way too many times. It’s not bad the first time around, but it gets skippable quickly the more you listen to the album.4.0
8. NP2LA
This one is definitely a product of Intuitions’ OG status in the L.A. music scene, a love/hate letter to the City of Angels and every motherfucker who lives there. Lee Shaner is “Stomping through your stomping grounds/Singing I don’t give a fuck”. The beat is incredible, and a perfect example of the way Equalibrum uses clarity to make tracks feel at once immediate and massive. It’s hard to dislike a song where one of the last lyrics is “The type to let your lady know you don’t own her/And if she starts acting up I’m prone to go phone her”.8.5
9. Ruins
Intuition and Equalibrum’s take on a Take Care-style breakup song, which works out better than you would think. The refrain towards the end of the song is really nice, and the beat builds satisfyingly throughout. The preceding verses are passable, if a little predictable. I wish that Intuition had pushed the anger in his voice on the verses; his current delivery feels a little too poised. Still, it’s a nice change of pace.7.5
10. Never Going Home
Another misstep by non-existent A&Rs. Boring narrative writing, a repetitive beat, and a chorus ready for top 40 radio in all the wrong ways. Intuition informs us that “when I’m drinking I’m hilarious”, so he must’ve written this song sober.5.0
11. Finish With a Kill
This beat makes me want to rain down arrows on orcs from Minas Tirith. The chorus is awesome, with vocal effects used to their maximum effect. This one’s got to be fantastic live. The flow on the verses is great, but the lack of memorable lines means that this one functions better as a background song than the focus of your attention. 7.0
12. Imagining
This is the first Intuition song I ever heard. I’m pretty sure it’s a fucking Horcrux. The best songs let you encase a piece of your soul in them like a moment frozen in glass. With “Imagining”, Lee Shaner writes his father a letter that is simultaneously a eulogy, a confession that he knows his father can read over and over again but never remember. Intuition is miles ahead of his second best performances on the album here, a completely raw center of emotions that are conflicted, difficult, and overwhelming. Equalibrum absolutely laces the beat, dropping instruments in and out whenever necessary to put the focus on his partner. Perhaps the most staggering moment is when all sound drops out before the coda, and you can hear Intuition inhale as he prepares to deliver his last arresting thoughts. The music video is similarly amazing, but the song alone is among the best hip-hop songs I’ve ever heard.10.0
13. Dear John
A warm piece of self- reflection, which serves as a nice decompression from “Imagining” and a great epilogue to the album. Over an absurdly catchy beat, Intuition pens an open letter to his negative attributes. We get that sense that even though Lee Shaner has just spent an entire album listing his flaws, he’s finally in a place where he’s ready to move forward into responsibility, working to “Better myself/Like it’s never too late”.9.0
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