ALBUM: Intuition & Equalibrum
ARTIST: Intuition & Equalibrum
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"