I could be wrong in naming L*Roneous a Most Overlooked of All Time...maybe he's huge in the Bay and I just don't know about it. I'll tell you what though, I didn't discover 1998's Imaginarium until this year, and it is a certified classic. Definitely a high water mark for late-'90s hip-hop, and I can't believe I slept on this jaw-dropper draws-hopper.
I don't do the whole biography blahzay blahzay (he runs it down his own self here), but let's just say Da Versifier's credits stretch back to 1990. On the meaning of the name:
I was reading some ancient Roman stuff and my nickname is L-Ron, “Eous” of course means the nature of something. My name means the nature of L-Ron. That’s what my music has been all about. I was always reading about cats like Maximus, my friends starting joking around saying I was L’Roneous, and I decided to keep that. [UGSmag interview 2001]
Now don't think he's on some Rammellzee tip, L*Ron isn't one of those psycho/mystical rappers, he's just a highly intelligent scholar type for real. Imaginarium picks up maybe where Digable Planets left off, but dips into introspection, the re-invention of conscious/underground hip-hop of the late '90s, and what you might call a friendly raised fist a la Black Star. This is dedicated, to those who view hip-hop as a voyage... begins the LP, and damn if he don't take you on one.
I think what makes the LP so superlative is that it's a cohesive whole--not a concept album, but all the songs add up to something larger; think Blowout Comb or Fear of a Black Planet...hell, any of your favorite LPs have the same aspect. But Imaginarium has a definite progression, depth and scope.
Musically, it takes in the whole scope of Black music, from African, neo-African, jazz, funk, boom bap, uprock bass loops...you hear a bit of Last Poets in there, a bit of Premier, some De La...but then he'll hit you with a track like "Oral Exercise" which sound like a Muggs or Onyx beat, and "Regimens" which could just as well be Mobb Deep. Lyrically and vocally, he sounds a lot like Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, but it's no contest he's a better lyricist with a lot more to say. In 1998 he was doing the fractured word mosaic thing that cats didn't understand until Cold Vein. Look, peoples: you owe it to yourself to check this album out.
I haven't checked out this 2001 Dreamweavers project he did with Elusive, but I'm finna get on that. Solo, L*Ron came back in 2004 with Purposely Powerful, working with a range of producers which made for a lesser album; it's a collection of songs, rather than the opus of Imaginarium. No doubt cuts like "Hop" and "From Under A Cloud" are ill standouts though.
Six years later, the free Roller Coaster EP went deep into the funk/soul sound of the '50s, '60s and '70s. Cotdamn what a comeback. Some of the strongest shit from start to finish I heard in '10, no doubt--it might feel a bit like a throwback, but it sure sounds fresh to me. This year he dropped Notes of the Righteous Outlaw and some free tracks--it's all pouring out after a long dry spell, and thank God for the rain to wash the trash off hip-hop's sidewalk. The LP's standouts are "Full Metal," "Sacks Piff Avenue" and "The Sound of Color"...I seriously fuck with those three cuts, and am digging the recent free joint, "Present Progressive." Man, it's really hard to pick just one track to represent.
Yeah, just another rapper right? Wrong kid. You can peep out his audiobook Sketches of a Straight Line here. Now that's some heaviness. That's representing Oaktown to the fullest. L*ron is having a late-career renaissance. He's gonna take this itty bitty world by storm. And he's just getting warm.