“Who’s the one that’s been running the race? Me. Who’s the one that’s been running in place? You.” It’s clear from the first line of “You” that Los Angeles rapper Evidence is no longer content with just being a member of Dilated Peoples, or being considered an underground favorite. And sure he’s won a Grammy for his co-production of Kanye West’s College Dropout, but on Cats & Dogs, Evidence seems hellbent on cementing himself as one of hip-hop’s modern day prophets. But should you believe his self-proclaimed greatness? Absolutely.
The promotion and hype surrounding the release of Cats & Dogs, piled on by pundits and fans alike, was nearly astronomical. In the four years between his debut solo album The Weatherman LP and today, Evidence has changed labels, commissioned various producers, and pushed back the release of Cats & Dogs countless times. For a brief moment, the album seemed destined to Detox status, nothing more than empty promises and a few random singles. The final product, no matter how long it took, is a complete labor of love. “Know my heart is here, never compromise” Evidence says on “James Hendrix,” and although nobody has ever questioned his work ethic, it’s a reassuring notion that his love for hip-hop hasn’t escaped him.
With seventeen tracks, a quantity most rappers reserve for 30 minute mixtapes and experimental side projects, the hour-plus Cats & Dogs never has a dull moment. Blending top notch production and a star studded guest list, complimenting Evidence’s unique talents, the album plays as a story of both his recent successes and past struggles, in a confident but never exaggerated manner. Mixed between tracks are anecdotes about rain, fake radio promos, and Jackson Browne samples. These transitions, along with the compelling production, makes listening from “Liner Notes” to “The Epilogue” entirely possible, a hypnotic method to enchant the listener in the record.
Though each track deserves attention and detail, Cats & Dogs certainly has some standouts. And despite Evidence finally posturing himself as a truly solo artist, the album features plenty of guests, from fellow Rhymesayers label mate Slug to Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon. “Late for the Sky” featuring Aesop Rock and Slug, a track which houses the best verses either of those guests have had in years, might be the most enjoyable cut on Cats & Dogs. Produced in part by Evidence as well, “Late for the Sky” is the sort of slow-rolling, clean and polished effort that the rapper’s become known for. It’s the perfect pallet for his methodical rhythm behind the mic, a trait that has long earned him the Mr. Slow Flow nickname. Architecturally, it’s a microcosm of Cats & Dogs’ catchy and complex nature, but the most startling part might be Aesop Rock’s final verse. Never one for sensical ideas or rhythmic vocal patterns, Aesop’s verse is fully comprehensible, at least from a listener’s perspective. It’s the first time in a great while that Aesop’s muddled logic is actually understandable. Evidence has other rappers, ones with storied careers, flowing like him on Cats & Dogs. Every verse, beat, and sample is on his terms, so that even when there is a guest, Evidence is fully in control of the final product.
Being famous and the being the greatest are different beasts, especially in the hip-hop world. But on Cats & Dogs, whether you’re familiar with him or not, there’s no doubt that Evidence is the next great rapper, an uncompromising mind who’s blossomed into a brilliant songwriter in the last half-decade. It caters to the fanboys and underground scensters, but is captivating enough for the top 40 listeners too. It’s dark but inspirational, catchy but never kitschy. Most of all though, it’s honest, and as Evidence summarizes, fading to black on the “The Epilogue,” “Clinging to this patience, my words are overstated. The greatest.”
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