The Aztext dropped their second album, The Sacred Document, in 2007. That was approximately more than a few years ago, which is crazy to contemplate. Now that I am digging into all the work I need to do this summer, I wanted to put some beers back and bump a Green Mountain classic I haven’t heard in many years.
Let’s be clear, there were a lot of movements going on in Vermont at this moment in time. The Loyalists had already dropped two great albums, VT Union was blowing up, Burnt MD was blowing up, Eye Oh You still owned downtown Burlington, JynxINC and High Flow were both working hard, and Voice was looking like the next big thing.
Still, when The Sacred Document dropped, The Aztext absolutely raised the bar. This was a professional piece of work, and not only that, they brought along national-level guest features and held their own against the rappers they worked with. This is a track by track re-assessment from an old, old man.
“We Back” was a cut I first heard live, so having this blasting on the porch this afternoon was a lot like an acid flashback. It’s a great opening track, aggressive, melodic, on point, but once they start tearing into the alphabetical bars at the end, there … it’s a vivid memory still. As a rapper in the audience, you just wanted to flip them off for the rest of the song, then buy them about ten beers after the show. With Nastee on the beats & boards, this is a polished gem.
“Lettin’ You Know” is an extremely 2000’s hip hop joint, in retrospect. Dub Sonata is a Bronx head with a dope name and a real gift for boom bap sample chops exactly like this, a bulletproof aesthetic he’s never deviated from. His style is also notable for the low end work; dude always has slick basslines pumping. One Be Lo was a legend among legends in certain underground circles, making his name in Binary Star, then spinning off into an epic solo career that saw him touring constantly.
Hearing “Keepin’ It Live” also gives me flashbacks to that album release show. The vibe is timeless and this is a serious single, the kind of jam that gets a crowd the fuck involved. The back and forth dynamic is money, and it actually improves over the course of the song — that whole closing movement is custom tailored to rock any venue.
“Couldn’t Stand The Pain” is a steal of a beat, courtesy of E Train...this would have been a hit for Fabolous or Joe Budden. A lot of vinyl chopping heads will recognize the sample, and I think most of us can agree this is a flawless flip. Having a solid hook game has been a staple of The Aztext secret sauce since they first opened up the food truck, but the verses are burners here, too. .
“Pay Attention” is back to setting large fires on small stages. It’s a huge, funky tsumami of horns and bass, and it’s one of the best “get hype”-ass hooks they’ve ever done -- simple and clean. That’s thanks to Nastee, once again, knowing how to make every touch just right. Lyrically, this is a Learic at his most comfortable, and he’s also talking a lot more shit than usual here.
“Blues & Jazz” is one of those classic concept tracks these guys love to nerd out with. I mean no disrespect, but a murder of crows is a murder of crows. Huge props on the Big Joe Burrell shout, by the way. The extent to which AZT heads are devoted to respecting their elders in every genre is admirable.
“Adventures Of…” is some more Dan The Automator style lush production from E Train. Get a great loop, flesh it out carefully, and make sure it all cranks: the man is an artist with many styles, but his recipes are always quality. Even Pro has to give him detailed credit here. There’s also detailed storytelling bars from both rappers that, looking back, presaged both GOOD WTHR and The Theorist, as long as we’re being rap nerds.
“Roll Call” is another moment from the album release party I’ll never forget. This may sound insane to younger readers, but at rap shows in Burlington, a lot of people used to dance, instead of nodding awkwardly in a hoodie. Not well, but they did at least dance. When this track came on -- despite being a massive funk breakbeat apocalypse -- everyone actually stopped. It was that heavy. The scratches and hooks are just as electric as the verses. Definitely one of the strongest tracks on the album, and one of their best singles.
From here, my notes get highly disordered, since I was drinking the entire time. I have a long, muppet-scribble rant about how they should have done a whole project of tracks like “All I See,” another Dub Sonata heater. Was boom bap purism limiting their reach? Then there’s a weird meditation on when rapping fast becomes fast rap, mostly because I thought “Move Into Position” was too quick to really follow. I’m getting old as heck, though, and again: cooler full of beers.
“Life of an MC” is another standout cut, even with the competition. The intro is inspired, veering from a live cypher feel into a beat that Coolio and Kool Keith would both want to buy. It’s also a closely observed song about being a hungry underground emcee. It’s a mystery to me why E Train doesn’t get hired to do scratch breaks more often.
“East Coast Air” fits nicely here, but it’s also a 100% NYC product that just happened to wind up on an iconic 802 LP. This is a speaker-popping Dub Sonata beat that kicks off with Double AB and Rich Mo, who sounds like he recorded his verse in a bathroom. Rich Mo can get away with that kind of shit, though, because that man is a genius.
The Sacred Document wraps up with a killer trilogy -- from “Our Kingdom,” a writing workout featuring a brilliant Mac Lethal closer, into “Lookin’ Out My Window,” a melancholy & appealing sad song, and wrapping with “Back 2 Basics.” It’s an urgent Touchphonics production, and a perfect closing statement, reprising most of the album’s themes without restating them.