Review: Sleep, ‘Oregon Failure’


Sleep, Oregon Failure © Sleep of Oldominion LLC

Sleep’s Uplifting Rhymes Make Oregon Failure LP Shine
Sleep (of Oldominion) • Oregon Failure • Sleep of Oldominion LLC • US Release Date: April 22, 2014

As music listeners, many of us tend to gravitate towards commercially successful and sounding artists, often because it is trendy and what we are exposed to the most. Particularly in rap music, the indie/underground movement beyond a few artists that have broken through often gets neglected. As the late, great Whitney Houston once sang, “It’s Not Right (But It’s OK)”, finishing the titular lyric off with “…I’m gonna make it anyway”. Yeah, she was talking about a man (LOL), but the same lyric is applicable to any number of independent artists.

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Sleep, a 37-year old Pacific Northwest MC is among those who is no commercial stronghold by any means. Despite this, Sleep succeeds awesomely on his recent LP, Oregon Failure, through uplifting, meaningful messages. No, Oregon Failure hasn’t topped any charts or penetrated the radio airwaves, but it’s a more ‘loaded’ listen than a lot of clichéd, more generic rap.

On “Where Ya At?”, Sleep initiates Oregon Failure soundly. Throughout his verses, Sleep shows off his agility where flow is concerned, keeping the rhymes incredibly rhythmic and captivating. Coupled with the soulful dusty beat and ostinato piano, “Where Ya At?” sets the tone from the get-go. “It’s Out Of My Hands”, continues to find Sleep ‘flexing’ over luxurious, rhythmic production. The mood is fiery and passionate as Sleep speaks of his career, and his love of spitting and “spilling his soul”: “When we first met, you were just a silhouette / you would be at the party / I was just a little kid…I kept staying in the background…” Cleverer than any number of contemporary rap songs that come to mind (“Move That Dope” by Future being one of them), Sleep proves he legitimately has plenty to offer as an MC.

On “The Beat”, Sleep is incredibly confident – a lyrical assassin if you will: “Been so underground, you didn’t even know I made it / and when I hit the top you can never get me back in…so when I kick this f*cking door in I’m everlasting”. Throughout “The Beat”, Sleep seems to suggest the world says/will “f*ck you”, and he has a “f*ck you too” to offer it back. A brash assertion and response it may be, but he’s got a point. On “Substances” (featuring Ceshi Onry Ozzborn), the rap flow continues to devastate the competition, specifically the pacing. While the title seems to suggest the typical clichés of rap music (aka drugs), the song itself is uplifting, referencing fighting, strength, and destiny. “I’ll work these fingers till they’re sprain / we will fight, we’re strong / yes we will fight, we’re strong”. Now that is some real power!

You Are Something Else” is slickly produced, something that should appeal to multiple rap bases. Talk about going H.A.M. – that’s exactly what Sleep does here, rapping so quickly its indecipherable at times. Things slacken lyrically on the hook, through multiple iterations of titular lyric, “you are something else”. “Here Inside” (featuring NyQwil) opens quite enigmatically, but gains stability once the contemporary clapping snares and thudding kicks take over. “Truth Serum” (featuring Pidgeon John) ‘romanticizes’ the mood, with its contemporary R&B-inspired production. Don’t get it twisted – Sleep still has ‘grit’ and ‘toughness’, but doesn’t everyone have a softer, gentler side for love? “And all I say is: thanks for loving me, thanks for loving me, thanks for loving me!” Sigh! (*gets all lovey-dovey inside*)

On “I’m Sorry”, the MC seems a bit lost and confused thematically: “I wish the sun would shine on me…and I can’t break free from what’s binding me”. An upsetting truism it is – it’s very honest and relatable to people from all different walks of life. “Tumbleweed” (featuring X-Perience) makes fine use of guitar as the sole accompanying instrument initially; this allows for the MC to shine even more. Bass adds the foundation after awhile, with synths and drum programming rounding things out. The talk is nothing but “real” as Sleep discusses his hardships and triumphs. Among favorite lyrics is during the sung-hook where putting the past behind you seems to be the motto: “My head’s in the clouds / I don’t see the ground…” “Sinking Ship” shocks from the get-go as Sleep spits nothing but ether: “Okay f*ck it, guess I’ll do what I do best, crush it / you can’t touch it…my tongue is dynamite…” Throw in the six-eight meter, and “Sinking Ship instantly separates itself from everything else that has appeared on Oregon Failure.

You Ain’t Sh#*t” (featuring Tony Ozier) is harshly titled, but sounds much ‘happier’ than “Sinking Ship” – well for obvious reasons I suppose! The shallow view before listening would be that Sleep is asserting other MCs “ain’t sh*t” because he’s “the sh*t”, but that’s not the approach he takes. Rather, Sleep talks about others criticizing him by saying “he ain’t sh*t”, which makes it connect much more with the audience. But he can’t resist the obligatory retort – “he ain’t sh*t either!”

Penultimate cut “Rap Rehab” is one of the best produced of the effort, inciting the head nodding and foot-tapping. “We gonna make it, we gonna make it together,” the hook urges, seeming to be one of those lovely double, if not triple meanings depending how much one reads into it. “Broke” closes the LP as exceptionally as it opened. The rhymes are tight, the production throwback and soulful, and overall it lays well.

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Having previously never even heard of Sleep, it was easy to “sleep” on him – no pun intended. However, after experiencing the excellence of which Oregon Failure offers, neither nap nor sleep will I on him anymore! Oregon Failure may not be perfect (what is?), but it’s one worthwhile, well-conceived rap album. In a time where shallowness has somehow supplanted depth, Sleep seeks to infuse rap with what it needs – genuine substance with meaningful rhymes and lyrics. Oregon Failure gets the job done and receives my critical blessing. Amen!

Favorites: “Where You At?”; “It’s Out Of My Hands”; “Tumbleweed”; “Sinking Ship”; “Rap Rehab”

★★★★

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