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Unpredictable Individual 

click to enlarge Mr. Garth "Culti"-Vader'. Photo by  Bob Doran
  • Mr. Garth "Culti"-Vader'. Photo by Bob Doran

CD by Garth Vader.

January 2008 saw the release of Mr. Garth "Culti"-Vader's second album Unpredictable Individual. Rebellious and independent, the album is the evolved expression of a talented hip hop artist firmly centered in the place he lives. Garth represents California, specifically Humboldt, and of course the roughneck weed-growing culture, in more than 20 tracks of deeply satisfying hip hop.

Already an experienced local musician when he released his first album, Humboldt Knightz, Vader has put years of work into this latest project. Anchoring the sound is the talented Humboldt master producer Piet Dalmolian, who made sure that Garth's album made auditory sense despite drawing from a diverse array of beat makers who recorded over a few years. Subtle keys, spiritual guitar riffs and empty spaces mesh with the MCs, whose vocals are perfectly balanced for the sound. Dalmolian proves his star quality in his mastering on Unpredictable Individual.

For an independently created local record, Unpredictable Individual is loaded with guest stars. Each collaboration came from Garth's smooth beats and the relentless support of a whole community of friends. When Sadat X of Brand Nubian was on a tour stop in Humboldt, Diamondback Entertainment producer/promoter Ole Persson played a rough mix of Garth's song "The Light" and the New York legend offered to contribute a verse on the spot, captivated by the beat and Persson's testimony.

Sonny Seeza from Onyx growls out a great contribution, Spice1 adds his thoughts to "Life Goes On" and a rocking (albeit sexist) verse from Tech N9ne blasts through "Keep It Hott." Mikah 9, Abstract Rude and Garth explain why people should "stop telling" on a creepy gangsta dark track.

The local artists who share track space seem to have amped up their game for their shot on this album. Three Subliminal Sabotage MCs show up: Problematic graces "Rock Bottom" with a great gravelly multi-syllabic verse, and MikaSun gets a chance at eloquence. But perhaps the best performed guest verse is Elision's two-way rhyme on "U Can't See Me."

While the guests make the album shine, the core of the album, the real substance, is Mr. Garth Culti-Vader on the microphone. Garth's flow connects to the beats, twisting and writhing around head-nodding snares and claps. The rhyming tempo changes dramatically and Vader's flow follows the tunes like he was strapped to a rollercoaster.

"One Eye Up" is a good example of just how strong he is coming for the game — borrowing a Jay-Z reference from the Black Album and an infectious string-driven beat made by Myster DL, Garth and DL enunciate hardcore electric verses about hustling that ooze authenticity.

On "Transportation" the lyrics are used as percussion — words punctuating the beat and sliding through some phrasings while dropping off on others all to create a level of anxiety worthy of Ice-T. Garth's rhyme ability has grown up, to say the least — in places it feels musically groundbreaking.

California's medical prescription of cannabis via 215 has created an alluring semi-legal occupation that provides the inventive space for Vader to get eloquent about herbals. But instead of just focusing on the underground wealth, Garth balances his stories about herb with the hard-luck blues of a working-class single dad. Like Redman, Garth rhymes more about the need to sling pot to keep his life together. On songs like "Got Shitted On," Garth documents the victims of the drug war, rhyming about jail, helicopters, police, snitches and the daily anxiety of poverty.

In "Life Goes On" Vader writes: "That's why I made this / for my people caught up in those positions / I'll never forget them / but hopefully we'll be forgiven / when we make the change from within / to see things a little different."

The choice to live as an independent, outlaw artist means certain freedoms, but it also comes with risks. Lack of radio play, struggle for distribution and the difficulty in producing high-quality music all plague even the most heartfelt of independent releases. This album seems to overcome those difficulties with exceptional quality and big heart. The sound is better than most, and the rhyming artists are in epic form. Unpredictable Individual is a stunning piece of composition and a unique product of Humboldt, a worthy choice for any hip hop fan or lover of freedom.

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Maxwell Schnurer

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