4 Wheel City are a hip-hop duo with a remarkable backstory. The two members are Namel “Tapwaterz” Norris and Ricardo “Rickfire” Velasquez, and they met in unique circumstances. As teenagers growing up in the Bronx, they were both injured by gun incidents and left wheelchair bound, one caught in the crossfire of a shootout, the other an accidental shooting.
They were brought together and found they shared musical interests as well as a desire to inspire others with disabilities, which led to the formation of the 4 Wheel City movement. They have already collaborated with Snoop Dog on Welcome 2 Reality G-mix, made the national news and pioneered a new brand of rehabilitation called “rap therapy”.
This mixtape, Spiritual, consists of sixteen tracks that combines hard hitting hip-hop with a positive, inspirational message. The soul/gospel influenced intro Angel (feat. Takiyah) sets the mood perfectly, immediately showing the emotional depth of their music. The following Saved By God then captures their unique lyrical approach and verbal dexterity: “Deeper than Jesus Christ resurrecting on Easter or a song with Louis Farrakhan on the feature…”.
Third track Bump That (Blunt Facts) is an even better showcase for both their emcee skills, taking turns delivering blistering rhymes with effortless flow. It also highlights their original style, with the spiritual message underlying their words a constant through the album. Musically, it’s just as slick; a simple but effective piano chord progression and speaker-rumbling rubberband bass set to a slinky beat.
Long Time Coming is another strong track, based around a lilting Lose Yourself-esque piano riff and featuring an anthemic chorus hook, which would make it a suitable single. Leaders Of The New World is one of the powerful tracks lyrically, setting out their anti-violence and anti-guns message, aided by moving sung vocals with lines like, “You die for your brothers, you don’t kill your brothers….”.
Sixth track Time To Wake Up is one of the more cutting edge productions, with some hip vocal effects on the title hook. Lyrically, its about racial unity: “White people, black people, time to wake up, we were all created equal from the same stuff….”. God Gives Blessings is the first of several longer tracks, with this one an expression of their deep-seated religious faith.
Noah is the epic of the album at six minutes long, starting with a spoken word intro, quoting from Genesis in the Bible. With a languid vibe and beat, the biblical allegory continues with a comparison to Noah, which I took to mean how they are starting a new spiritual era (“build this ark…”.) Ninth track My Day Ones is a nice contrast, based around a funky, low bassline and a playful tone that brought to mind the similarly spiritual De La Soul.
Music is another of the more modern sounding tracks, with an inventive arrangement and superb production. Full of restless, jittery and highly addictive rhythms with syncopated bass, it features a memorable hook and a charismatic lead vocal from guest singer Tabitha Haly. Rickfire performs the rapping on this one, as well as the following track (he also performs the lead vocals on Saved by God, Leaders of the New World, My Day Ones, God Gives Blessings and Noah) .
I’m Only Human is actually very original, combining a gospel choir-style vocal hook with a breathless, rapid-fire rapping performance over an aggressive beat to create one of the most incendiary moments of the album. Twelth track Disabled Lives Matter is perhaps the most heartfelt message here, as the title implies. It’s another exhilarating, passionate performance about a subject close to their hearts.
Burning of The Tiki Torches is a real highlight, set against a musical backdrop of orchestral instruments and Beethoven-esque piano samples. Lyrically, it’s a rant against white nationalists who have used Tiki torches to light up their marches, bolstered by a powerful title hook. It shows how 4 Wheel City use their art to confront the deepest, most significant issues such as racism.
What Do You Believe continues the depth, a reflection on the big existential questions of life like believing in God. The Foundation starts with another Bible quotation, which underlines the importance of their faith once more, the cornerstone of their spiritual inspiration.
Final track Sometimes I Feel is a great way to finish the album. Over a toy piano sample and a crisp, funky hip-hop groove, they expound upon the various conflicts of belief and scientific theory with some real wisdom in the catchy chorus: “Sometimes I feel like I’m on something, I get these thoughts and my heart starts pumpin’, as a young boy I was told something, a man that knows anything knows he knows nothing….”.
Overall, this is a classic modern hip hop album from a very gifted duo whose struggles and experiences have forged their characters. With the lyrical potency of Public Enemy and the spiritual depth of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, 4 Wheel City deserve to be among the pantheon of great hip-hop artists. This album should help them reach a deservedly much bigger audience.
VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10