Max Bell never slung crack rock, but he has a wicked jump shot.
Behind the Scale is an album about the come-up. Since the come-up is generally a slow burn, it’s fitting that this review is four months late. So it goes:
The sound of a needle on a record. It’s simple. It feels good. Sean Born’s Behind the Scale, doesn’t let go of that sound. It reminds you of a better time. Not because the content is bright, full of sunshine, and lollipops and shit, but because it’s gutter as fuck. And most of the time, when you’re feeling nostalgic for the records that brought you to hip-hop in the first place—records like Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, which others have unfairly compared to Born’s first effort—gutter as fuck is comforting as hell.
The Kev Brown (he also handled the mixing and arrangement for the album) produced “Grandeur” is the opener for a reason, setting the tone for the rest of this solid introduction to the game. The crackle of the needle on a record is present throughout, and that, coupled with the dark and beautifully chopped choir of ‘oohs’ make it feel as though the Maryland-bred Born is praying at the Golden Age altar, expressing his ‘fear of mediocrity’ to the rap gods. The rest of the album shows that his prayers have been answered.
On “Go Hard,” Born does just that. He spits about he and his crew slaying rivals, urging them to ‘bring the heat out’ in order to ‘queef their teeth out.’ The track falls in line with the rest of the clearly 90s-inspired album, feeling as though it was made in a basement with heavily oxidized pipes leaking over scurrying rats. But Born isn’t vainly trying to bring back a forgotten time: “The 90s is dead/Who knows what the future holds?”
The rest of the album is equally potent to the first two tracks. On “Queen Anne,” Born drops purple tape references only to follow it up by letting it slip that even his grandmother knows the smell of crack on the stove. Born also proves to be deftly skilled at crafting a hook, see the Oddisee produced “Pluck ‘Em Off”: “Line up/Blade up/Mack down/Raise up/Lie down/Blaze up/Crake down/Haze up/Yup.” The chant’s catchy as hell and I’ll be yelling it in my bedroom all summer, so as not to embarrass myself publicly.
“Lights On” combines the comforting crackle of a soulful beat with the street wisdom and honesty of a man trying to make it in one of the only ways he knows how. It’s the best synthesis of Born. “I ain’t trying to be a kingpin nigga/Real talk, I’m just trying to pay rent/I’m just trying to put some money away, got to man, it only makes sense/I’m just trying to keep my lights on.”
What Born he lacks in technical rap tricks, he makes up for in well crafted street narratives and grit. There isn’t a lot of breadth when it comes to subject matter, but who gives a fuck when you can rap you’re your ass off about the streets like this? Behind the Scale is what you loved about the 90s without the fucking polka dots.. And, to me, that’s valuable. Born deserves to pay his electric bill legitimately.