Hip hop has, in recent years, evolved into a beast of over-accessibility. The fabled street corner has been replaced by a SoundCloud account and it often seems that anyone with a Logic torrent is busy tweeting about their upcoming mixtape. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – Odd Future, Main Attrakionz and A$AP Rocky all owe their fame to the Internet and it’s becoming increasingly easier to suss out the next big thing. It’s also getting harder to keep up – trends in sub-genres have the shelf life of about an hour and whether you’re a fan of the Based God or not, Lil B has too many songs to count and only a decimal-sized percentage have remain in hip-hop head’s collective memory for over a week.
Iowa City’s Ion seems to have recorded Coordinates with an implied knowledge of the fickle tendencies of the hip hop cloud. While never raising opposition to the current state of rap music (and it’s refreshing to hear an MC who doesn’t rap about rapping), Ion presents a six-song showcase of hunger for and devotion to music that strives to remain timeless in an atmosphere thick with volatility.
Coordinates is completely self-produced, with Ion himself behind every track’s instrumentation. It’s a trade-off that often ends in the MC’s favor: while the beats lack the tonal clarity of sampled music (audiophiles might find themselves a bit distracted), they boast the precision and control of a live band and the rare opportunity to meld intention with execution, leaving little room for accidents. Instances of budgeted mixing are shadowed by the near-flawless fills in “Last Call” and “No Regrets,” and the horns in the anthemic “You Want This Myst” beg for repeated listens. There’s a live jam feel not far from Nas and Damian Marley’s Distant Relatives and while the beats are far from perfect (and may prevent the speed of the rapper’s ascent), Ion’s dedication overcomes Coordinates’ fiscal limitations.
It’s hard to decide where Ion resides lyrically. With a flow often akin to Aesop Rock, Coordinates is evenly divided between conscious and introspective rhymes that do a good job avoiding the preachiness and pot-fueled paranoia that usually burdens similar content. With the exception of the call-to-arms finale “F.W.R.,” Ion never demands pity nor support from his audience and his rhymes are earnestly straightforward. At times, this aversion of clever metaphor common in big names like Curren$y and Kanye is to the album’s detriment, with seldom a repeatable lyric outside of the hooks, and Coordinates will never be accused of breaking new ground within the spectrum of conscious hip-hop. But Ion is able to deliver his opinions and musings with the kind of thoughtful confidence that would sooner foster a dialogue than an argument, and I can’t think of another budding MC with such intention.
“In the Ghetto” finds Rakim insisting that “it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.” It’s a sentiment that’s increasingly true during hip hop’s online migration, a process that lets Harlem MCs sound fresh out of Houston and has nearly wiped the notion of street-cred from public concern. Ion’s Cooridnates is a rare instance in which a rapper trades concern for his position within the genre for concern of the sanity of his community, and it leaves him exactly where he should be. If you’re struggling to decide who to follow, Ion is one to watch.
You can catch Ion on tour with The Odd Couple’s Louis Logic this summer.