A couple of spins – that’s what it took for me to absorb the mesmerizing atmosphere of Awon & Phoniks’ “Return To The Golden Era.”
The creative duo have a strong throwback style to something you might have heard back in the hip-hop golden age, the ’90s – think fat samplers, floppy disks and old records. I found myself engulfed in a world I’d only seen in the movies; rich, jazzy, textures that sent me back to the ’70s, ’60s and beyond, work of the creative genius, 22-year-old Phoniks of Portland. The words give me a vivid tour of some massive, bustling city, complete with drug deals, Uzis and neighborhood rivals whose girlfriends are always coming around – the not-so-golden irony.
“Forever III,” (featuring Dephlow & Tiff The Gift) totally hooked me. Its awesome groove and soft electric piano slow-burn a sexy mood.
“Street Saga” is a tune that brings out some classic sax while Awon calmly tells you what his world is like. “It ain’t nothing but a street saga/police drama/real-life cops and robbers.”
There are some great choruses on this album as well. When something like “Blinded By The Riches” sits 5 tunes deep on the track list and still grabs me, I know that I’m listening to something special.
But if there is a tune that I really think everyone should hear, I’d have to say it’s “Blood In Blood Out,” a heart-breaking story about the devastation and demise of a drugged-out culture, “the sickness associated with strife,” as Awon says. It’s a power tale of tragedy mixed with a heavy dose of his own responsibility in the matter and it truly had me shaking my head in sadness for the senseless loss revealed in the song.
“Rule of the Gun” talks about the reality a good percentage of this country wakes up to: guns being waved in people’s faces while enemies are getting mowed down in the driveway.
“Get Yours” has an excellent groove as well – a blunt kick, a snappy snare, a bass with the treble rolled off completely and another pensive sax. There’s much goodness here.
I think the most engaging thing about this music is the fact that this is a man’s life in notes. It’s not fluff. It’s hard truth. It becomes a numbing knowledge of a world built on the violent reaches of many a young man for what is to many the all-too elusive American dream.
All in all, Phoniks paints one beautiful soundscape after another – a perfect canvas itself for the soft-spoken and patient Awon.
Kristin DiCara McClellan is a Portland freelance writer. Contact her at: