Herald rating: * * *
It's been a long time between drinks for Scribe fans. His debut may have been flimsy but thanks to Stand Up and Not Many, his easy flow and charismatic personality, he became our biggest pop star. He then waited four years to bring out the follow-up, a risky move considering the slump of local hip-hop in the meantime.
Scribe's sales figures are all here on Rhyme Book, his bold account of the highs and lows of that heady period. In other words, it's not just an album about his bowel movements, despite first singles My Shit (which recycles the general theme of Not Many) and F.R.E.S.H: "My shit is fresh, fresh, fresh".
The Timbaland/Missy Elliott-era beats are a little late for that statement but it's a track that shows Scribe's innate ability to ride the beat hasn't gone anywhere. Even if his rhymes come dangerously close to a satirical rap by Flight of the Conchords: "the strength in the oesophagus, from the city metropolis, the beginning to the apocalypse". But Scribe has always been a better storyteller than wordsmith, and there are much better songs on Rhyme Book.
It's an album best summed up on Don't Look Back: "You gon' feel my pain, you gon' feel my struggles, you gon' feel my victories too, my success, ultimately my salvation".
The track is an honest account of his rise from mischievous teenager, misplaced urbanite and scared young dad to overnight star, and how he still can't get no satisfaction when it comes to this success thing. In true hip-hop tradition, all that pain and hardship hasn't dented his ego, and it's to his credit he doesn't shy away from it; he merely states the facts and how he dealt with them.
On the flipside, the braggadoccio of Champion and The Return of the King sounds tired, as does My Shit: "Wearin' your hat to the side, you look like you wanna be Scribe."
Scribe too, just wants to be Scribe again but that explosive hunger of his former self has transformed into deeper reflection.
He raps about what he knows, and what he knows is the life of a young dreamer who got famous really fast. Yes, we get an insight into his creative process but he's not a storyteller making sense of the world; he's a storyteller making sense of his world. That's fair enough, if a little limiting.
Where he does deserve credit for more than most, is his understanding of the music behind those words, and how he can use the beats to his advantage. Sonically, it's a diverse affair that complements his many moods, although it's disappointing that tracks by his former right-hand-man P-Money didn't make it, apparently due to sample clearance issues.
Fire & Ice, 41 and 10Aciouss are behind most of the club singles and party tracks (Put Your Hands Up with PNC in which Scribe gives a guttural "rrrrrock with me!" and Be Alright with Talib Kweli - now that's a coup for NZ hip-hop), as well as the confessional, Eminem-style melancholy (A.W.O.L, with his other cuz, Ladi 6) and chipmunk soul (Let Me Ride with Frontline's David Dallas).
But the album's most thrilling moment is Fire & Ice's Say It Again with Scribe's cousin Tyra Hammond in diva mode, a track reminiscent of his pre-glory days with DJ Ali.
He may not have reclaimed royal status on Rhyme Book but it's still a quality album that exposes a more thoughtful scribe on Scribe. Anyway, he's always got the stage.
Verdict: Return of the King? Almost