It’s hard to know where to begin with Abstract Mindstate, the Chicago duo of Olskool Ice-Gre and E.P. da Hellcat, so let’s start from the beginning. The duo met in college at Jackson State in Mississippi and soon developed a significant following for their wry raps about everyday life. They were a few crucial connections away from becoming one of the biggest Chicago hip-hop acts of their generation but their momentum sadly washed away by 2005 after an industry deal gone bad. The duo parted ways and hadn’t been heard from them since.
Then, after nearly two decades apart, Abstract Mindstate reunited last year at the behest of none other than Kanye West, who grew up listening to their music. With Dreams Still Inspire, Kanye not only convinced the duo to get back together but also helped them rediscover the fire that used to drive their relationship. Kanye also contributed all of the album’s beats, helping re-create the sound that made Abstract Mindstate a Chicago cult favorite.
The resulting album is decidedly old school, featuring clever wordplay and a nostalgia for rap’s golden era. It’s an upbeat comeback effort built around Olskool Ice-Gre and E.P. da Hellcat’s friendship and mutual love of music, a vibrant stroll through a landscape of lush, sample-heavy production and clever, socially conscious lyrics.
Olskool Ice-Gre and E.P. da Hellcat’s performances are varied and punctuated by memorable moments drawn from their history together. Gre’s strength is in his flow, delivery and balance to a beat, while E.P’s prowess lies in attention-span holding detail, complex rhymes and conceptual depth.
Gre and E.P.’s jubilant mood is matched by Kanye’s work behind the boards, harkening back to his older “backpack” style of production that’s tailor-made for the nostalgic vibe. The beats pulse with a vintage flavor – the drum programming and the concepts are simple yet effective, often sounding like something that could have come out in the 90s.
While Dreams Still Inspire is a return for Abstract Mindstate, it’s not exactly a return to form. They still maintain their style and identity, but have advanced their sound and found new ways to explore their passions. The duo brought in the biggest producer in the world to work with, but the album doesn’t lose sight of their roots. It’s a slick and polished comeback from the duo and an inspiring revival.