While the North Carolina MC / producer duo of Solemn Brigham and L’Orange might be named for the pulp private eye Phillip Marlowe, perhaps another predecessor is English playwright Christopher Marlowe – Known by experts as a nigh peerless talent and eschewing lyrical convention through blank verse, yet eternally second fiddle to contemporaries like Shakespeare. L’Orange and Brigham themselves, while constantly growing, are notably underrated despite having put out some of the most technically sound and evocative albums of recent years. With their latest, that pattern of growth reaches a head as the duo passes down legitimate wisdom and accepts their Marlovian status in the game.
A cornerstone of Mello Music Group, often sold short as a Madlib baby or just another underground crate digger, L’Orange always reinvents himself over time and based upon his collaborators. From spacey Kool Keith collabs to mobster flicks with Jeremiah Jae, he is nothing if not versatile in his interpretation of old school sampling. Solemn Brigham demands something entirely different from him though: energy. The beats on a Marlowe album, while boombappy, could rock a stadium (and you’ve likely seen it yourself thanks to Gatorade). Massive horns and stampeding drums elevate you from a foot tap to a full swing out of your seat, and Marlowe 3 accomplishes this better than ever. Coming off last year’s solo album The World is Still Chaos, But I Feel Better, perhaps his best produced work ever, L’Orange effectively loads layers upon layers of instrumentation and different progressions into every track.
Take the track “Royal”; Given the relatively big name features in Blu and Joel Ortiz and its larger-than-life beat, it feels like a victory lap for Marlowe. Solemn skitters casually across records, finds pockets few would dare to touch, spews a new melody and alternates speed in seemingly every bar. It never comes across as performative or forced, but as genuine energy and rare talent. “Lamelo”, for example, sees his ability to flow on a technical level, hitting every drum, only to fast-break into a much freer, drawn out verse two.
I’m just trying to reach your heart, see I done put some things to rest
With that sense of accomplishment and contentment, Solemn now has a platform to help others the same way he has bettered himself. Where Marlowe 2 was a lament and navigation of his unique black experience, Marlowe 3 sees him offering direct advice. He litters his verses with vague nuggets of wisdom (“I know what it’s like to have pride and never ask a lot”), and every hook makes for a soothing mantra that someone out there needs to hear (“No matter how much you had, you can make it back”). Even the fact that so much of this album is spoken in second person makes it feel as though Solemn is reaching out to you with a guiding hand, reminding us that resolution is always in sight.
Many of Solemn’s raps deal with both frustration with the industry and his position in the game. While they might be immensely talented and given credit where due, Marlowe are hardly superstars – but that’s okay. Hiphop as a platform is designed and obligated to unite us through shared struggles and call out the structures that perpetuate them. “Let the people talk, they don’t know enough. Let my people spark, they don’t own enough”; L’Orange and Solemn have matured from hungry and green, to sage and equipped to take on the world one listener at a time.