IQ - 'IQ Test'

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this afternoon’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we delve deeply into ‘IQ Test,’ the extensive new hip hop record from indie artist IQ. The brutally honest exhibition of songs is a compelling one, one that’s continually rewarding for the listener. First, though, let’s learn a bit about IQ.

IQ is the moniker of Kevin Paul, a man who has lived and breathed the content of his songs. He had a troubled youth that involved drugs, prison sentences, and even a brief escape from the law to Mexico. In recent years, Paul has screwed his head on straight in the pursuit of his lifelong dream: hip hop music. He’s started his own record label since then and has released ‘IQ Test’ independently. Note that the album is available September 1 - We’ve received an early glimpse at the record.

After learning about IQ, I was hoping that his music would be personal and honest. He’s lived through so much and I wanted him to tap that life experience in his music. Right off the bat, ‘Addiction’ makes it clear that he is doing just that. Guest vocalist Gina Lorenzo croons, “don’t give into your addiction” as IQ remarks on the realities of addiction, regardless of what it is your addicted to.

‘IQ Test’ is an incredibly ambitious album, clocking in at sixteen tracks. I spent about two and a half hours with it in preparation for this piece, and thus, I’m going to touch on the high and low points of the work. ‘Changin’ The World’ follows ‘Addiction’ with a second insightful track. The chorus is a bit awkward and out of place, but the actual verses are intelligently penned and performed.

‘Strong’ is another fascinating track, perhaps as a result of the brass section and eclectic sound design. With that said, the most exceptional outing of the first half of ‘IQ Test’ is almost most certainly ‘No Playin’ Games,’ a track featuring Buppy Brown. The production of this track is nothing short of excellent. In fact, it’s one of the better independent hip hop instrumentations I’ve heard this year. The lyrics are a bit bizarre, but Brown’s inclusion in the song infuses it with an immense amount of personality.

One of the strongest points of ‘IQ Test’ is the diversity of the productions. All too often, I find independent hip hop artists recycling stereotypical beats and landscapes. Every track on ‘IQ Test’ feels powerful and independent on its own two feet. Take ‘Might As Well,’ the track following ‘No Playin’ Around.’ There’s an acoustic guitar backing a complex beat and sparse brass section. How cool is that? You don’t find that very often in this scene.

In addition to the incredibly varied productions, which is again personified on ‘Who I Am,’ IQ’s music is enhanced by the guest artists. Though ‘IQ Test’ remains a vehicle for his creativity, the array of people in the passenger seat continually refresh the experience. Each of these guests brings their unique style to the table, such as Garrett Prado on the remarkably soulful ‘Walkin’ The Line.’

‘Achieve’ continues IQ’s jaunt through lyrically compelling subjects. He’s again backed by an acoustic guitar and Gina Lorenzo. Very much in the nature of ‘IQ Test,’ the listener is immediately transferred to a dramatically different style for ‘10s Only,’ a tune that’s clearly inspired by electronic influence. On this track, I found IQ’s lyricism particularly good as he describes the kind of woman he’s interested in.

The next highlight of ‘IQ Test’ is ‘In A Perfect World,’ another song backed by Lorenzo. The string section is absolutely stunning, though IQ’s lyrics fault a bit flat at times. He’s a fine wordsmith and rapper, but feels flat when he attempts to sing. Fortunately, he doesn’t attempt to do that very often. The next track, a ballad entitled ‘Lanita,’ is a nice exhibition of his style, albeit a bit peculiar since he’s straight up describing his sex life with Lanita.

As ‘IQ Test’ begins to wind down, a few highlights are worth mentioning. I found ‘Let’s Go’ ultimately forgettable because the two tracks following it are so memorable - ‘Work’ and the finale, ‘No Mo’ Savin’ These Hos.’ The latter culminates some of the finest elements of IQ’s production technique. Thus, it’s an apt finale, one that ends ‘IQ Test’ on a defiant high note.

At the end of the day, ‘IQ Test’ is superb. It’s a bit awkward at times, but every bit as honest and real as I was hoping it would be. The few times it falls short, it’s quickly recovered either by an excellent production or guest star. I’d argue a few tracks could have been cut to strengthen the experience... ‘Lanita’ and ‘Let’s Go,’ for example. With that said, though, it’s still a sharp and coherent effort for a sixteen track album. That in itself is a massive accomplishment. Most independent artists have trouble harnessing the power of half a dozen songs, let alone sixteen. Pick up ‘IQ Test’ when it drops in September if you’re a fan of indie hip hop. It’s a microcosm of some of the best elements of the genre.