Lord Steppington was a Victorian Era earl in the North Country of England. Blessed with the ability to survive without toiling for 8 days a week in a soot-soaked factory, he was a renowned patron of music and an amateur chemist. His interest in chemistry stemmed from an obsession with the pseudo-scientific field of alchemy, because what the fuck else is a limey rich bastard going to do besides try to get richer? So Steppington spent the majority of his inherited fortune on 8 separate expeditions to India and the Far East, hoping to find evidence of the fabled Sorcerer’s Stone, or instructions for creating it. Inevitably, he died before reaching this goal. The rest of his wealth was held in escrow for 120 years plus change, and then used by two white rapper/producers from LA to make a rap album that memorializes Lord Steppington while still ultimately being about nothing.
Nothing. Nothing at all. The lord would certainly not be pleased.
But I am! Hopefully at least one of you found that intro somewhat smile-inducing. To the rest, please forgive my attempt to add some corn flakes to what would otherwise be a very small pan of review meatloaf: Lord Steppington is very good! Dope beats, dope rhymes! That’s it! There’s nothing more because there doesn’t need to be! Fin.
But in the interest of being more than a D-minus grade critic, here’s some explanation:
Lord Steppington is not a person…that my google search can find. It seems that he was made up by Alchemist back on the Gangrene album with Oh No. Alchemist and Evidence’s album that is named after him is a very back-to-basics underground hip-hop affair. No cheesy love songs, no obvious popularity-seeking feature choices (ie no 2 Chainz), and no hooks sung by pop or R&B singers.
And for the most part, no conceptual songs. Sure, some songs, like No Hesitation, have (really) loose general themes, but Alchemist and Evidence use stream of consciousness writing styles that muddy any meaning they might be trying to convey. Anyway I doubt that deep messages are a major goal for this album. Or even a minor one. Simply getting together to make good hip-hop seems to be all that there is to this plan. Luckily, Evidence and Alchemist are both pretty decent rappers even when saying nothing. Alchemist has the better voice but is sorely lacking in wordplay and his vaguely thug talk isn’t too original, while Evidence’s tone never changes but his lyricism makes up for it. By themselves, their rhymes would get old fast, but together, with these beats and nine features, they mostly kept my attention.
Speaking of beats, Alchemist did all but one, which is good and bad. It gives Lord Steppington a clear sonic direction: boom-bap influenced, sample-dependent, hardcore hip-hop. But Alchemist is not known for his sonic variety. So sometimes the beats are merely ok, like Bally Shoe and Legendary Mesh.
These somewhat boring beats are at least better than his failed attempts to branch out, like Buzzing Away, where the weird piano loop adds too much melody to a song with such basic rhyming, and See the Rich Man Play, which is much too minimalist to not be a head-scratcher. Another failure is the first of three instrumentals used on Swimteam Rastas, which has a blaring fire engine alarm that literally never stops. It reminds me of The Bomb Squad and El-P’s productions, except without that hint of orchestration that stops everything from devolving into noise with drums.
But just as many of Lord Steppington‘s beats are total successes. Byron G and No Hesitation are great songs that exhibit Alchemist’ usual work at its best. By the way, Byron G features a good, if laughably disingenuous, verse from the famous actor and Alchemist’ old partner in rhyme, Scott Caan aka Mad Skillz. Despite the ear-splitting first third, the last two beats of Swimteam Rastas are also very good showings for Alchemist. Both use vocal samples expertly to create very different but interesting moods, one celebratory and one melancholy, and the transition somehow isn’t jarring at all.
All those songs, and more, are great, but the clear winner of this competition is Tomorrow. First, it features Rakaa, Evidence’s group-mate in Dilated Peoples, along with West Coast everyman rapper Blu. Everyone tries hard with their verses, even Alchemist, but Blu’s internal-rhyme-filled performance is the best. Though the beat, sounding like nothing else on the album but in the best way possible, is the clear star. It has a spacey, contemplative mood that I can best describe as a hip-hop child (not a sample or remake) of Roy Ayers Everybody Loves the Sunshine.
So it turns that I had a lot more to say than I thought. But it can all be summed up like this: Lord Steppington isn’t perfect but it’s great! It’s basic underground hip-hop done extremely well, mostly because the beats are good but the rhymes aren’t bad either. Go listen!