IQ is a rap/hip hop artist hailing from Los Angeles. He started out at the age of only six, when he began writing poems that resembled rap songs. After a colourful adolescence, where he ended up serving jail sentences in three different counties, he formed the record label Intelligence Records with his cousin, Significant7. He then helped form the group Linguistics who ended up supporting acts such as Wu-Tang, Dilated Peoples and KRS-ONE. He cites influences such as Tech N9ne, Beastie Boys and Eminem, which are audible in his music.
This album, IQ Test (released September 1st, 2015), consists of sixteen tracks, opening with Addiction ft. Gina Lorenzo. It starts with the instantly memorable chorus hook sung by Gina, who has a powerful, soulful voice. The track deals with drug addiction, but also the human capacity for addiction in general. IQ enters for the verse, and immediately impresses with a casual, almost conversational rapping style that rivals Eminem for wordplay and inventive rhymes.
There’s also a worldly wisdom borne of experience in lines like ‘Drugs may empower you, but after a while you can’t get to the same altitude…’. The musical backing is sparse but effective, pulsing insistent piano and subtle bass over a laid back hip hop beat, with a synth riff on the chorus. It’s essentially an anti-drugs song that isn’t corny or preachy because it’s real and humorous as well as serious.
Second track Changin’ The World also has a positive message behind it but doesn’t shirk from pointing out the many screwed up aspects of the world: “See, I have this vision for man, soon we’ll stop fighting over religion and land… I see the consequences of their decision and look, you guys are lost fighting over primitive books….”. Again, IQ combines rapped verses with serious content, along with a simple and catchy vocal hook which makes for an effective combination.
Next comes Strong ft. Amy Winehouse, J Money/Lovie Ray and it’s a mindblower. Sampling the late, great Amy Winehouse (Stronger Than Me from her first album Frank) to great effect, it becomes a smoky, jazzy hip hop track replete with mellow clean guitar and smooth trumpet. Each of the three rappers lay down a verse each, and their differing styles complement each other. A real album highlight.
No Playin’ Games ft. Buppy Brown is a very catchy track (with some Shabba Ranks style vocals from Buppy) over a descending piano riff and mid tempo beat with busy hi hats. It contains some very funny, if very politically incorrect lyrics from IQ, who has an Eminem-style capacity to shock and a similar sense of dark humour. Might As Well is a nice contrast, acoustic guitar and trumpet giving the musical backing a Latin feel. Lyrically, it’s about taking a ‘devil may care’ attitude towards life and again has a catchy chorus with some amusingly offensive but unprintable lines!
Who I Am ft. Phil Dog and Gina Lorenzo is a fine piece of RnB-flavoured rap about identity and being understood. Gina sings a powerful hook (“There’s a burning inside me that you’ll never understand…” ) and gravel-voiced Phil Dog gives a nice cameo on the second verse. Gina’s classy vocals feature again on Achieve, another track with an uplifting, defiantly positive message.
10’s Only is a dubstep-influenced hip hop track, with a Skrillex type low synth sound on the chorus that beefs up another addictive hook from IQ. On the verses, he explains his preference for only the most attractive women, and it’s safe to say he is not concerned about aiming for the feminist demographic with this one. Crazy Life is another entertaining track, IQ really showing his verbal dexterity and seamless flow as he recalls his troubled youth in and out of prison. His brutal honesty is one of his strengths and by the end you’ll find yourself agreeing with him when he says “I’ve had a crazy life….”.
In A Perfect World is the final track to feature Gina Lorenzo. Ironically enough, it is her, rather than IQ, that gets to deliver the most acerbic lines as she describes why a perfect world would be hell: “No need for motivation when everybody wins, no death means overpopulation of chumps with stupid grins…”. Lanita is more light hearted, essentially IQ imagining an erotic encounter with his masseuse!
Threesome, as the title suggests, carries on the sexual theme with a tale about a threesome that didn’t quite happen due to too much alcohol being involved: “Next thing I know I was passing out on the couch, next morning she’s telling me to get out of her house…”. Track fourteen Let’s Go has a chugging, insistent Lose Yourself style rhythm and shows that IQ can do fighting talk as well as any rapper you care to name.
There is no drop off in quality on the last two tracks. Work has one of the catchiest choruses here, performed over a swirling synth melody that brought to mind Mike Oldfield’s classic Tubular Bells and is a late highlight. No Mo’ Savin’ These Ho’s makes for a suitable and enjoyable finale featuring the most intricate hip hop beat on the album with skittish, super-fast hi hats and an 80’s style synth melody that becomes part of the track’s main hook.
Overall, this is a consistently excellent album that showcases IQ as a charismatic and controversial artist. He depicts his hedonistic lifestyle with refreshing candour, yet at the same time manages to convey a strongly positive social message on some tracks without coming across as trite. Now that Eminem is past his best, maybe IQ is his natural heir as a smart, socially aware rapper that isn’t afraid to shock or offend the political correctness brigade.
Verdict: 8.6 out of 10