Ransom & V Don – Chaos is My Ladder (Review)

To some, chaos is a source of pain and panic; but to the ambitious, it is no more than a stepping stone to escape the strife below and stake a claim to greatness. After more than a decade in the game, New Jersey MC Ransom has begun to earn his due respect, and it is in no small part due to the grind and failures he suffered along the way. From unsung mainstream releases in the late 2000’s, to supposedly ghostwriting for the genre’s greatest stars, and even a brief retirement, Chaos Is My Ladder is yet another in a string of steady releases marking Ransom’s emergence from the rubble to great acclaim within his niche.

Ransom’s penchant for full length collaborations with a single producer must be a conscious strength. Whether it be the Director’s Cut series with Nicholas Craven, Heavy is the Head with Big Ghost LTD, or the seemingly canceled Pete Rock album, it grants each project greater personality and cohesion, placing his hand in every pot available (a la Boldy James). This time, he links with Harlem producer V Don, an equally prolific, yet unsung hero of the scene. While he has credits under his belt with major artists like A$AP Rocky and can take on a harder, more modern sound, he is also core to the massive underground wave of menacing, minimal boombap.

Keeping a tight circle of collaborators such as Eto, Willie the Kid, Dark Lo, and Retch, Ransom actually flies up the list of most talented lyricists for V Don to have worked with; while those artists often get by on sheer attitude and street talk, Duffle Bag’s technicality is peerless and broad. On one verse he might turn unnavigable rhyme schemes to everyday shit talk with his deep, intentional flow (“Bricks of Tina turn into court engagements and quick subpoenas”), and on the next, employ wordplay so clever it makes you wonder how nobody has ever come up with it before (“So how y’all spelling GOAT to the wrong n—a to go at?”).

Ransom & V Don – “Chaotic Ceremony”

On the opener “Hit List”, Ran and Trust Gang head 38 Spesh show rare chemistry, trading bars over a dizzying string chop. Two artists, self made and at the top of their game, could no better exemplify a victory over circumstances and their view of it from a newfound, outstanding perspective (“All I can say, we share a bond from the pain we survived”). Although Ransom’s lyricism is inseparable from the streets and his rule over them as such, he offers equal motivation and comfort as a sage in the game. “Lone Wolf” sees him hint at his difficult past as an orphan and unpredictable rise to the top over a vocal loop immediately reminiscent of his work with Craven; aware of his influence, his music is as much counsel and retrospection as it is an assertation.

This love/hate relationship with the streets and the struggle is treated matter of factly; where on “A Most Dreadful Ceremony” Ransom puts posers on notice, he just as quickly laments the tragic conditions that those beneath him might romanticize. “Toxic Love” paints the streets and even the closest of friends as secretly praying on your downfall, scheming and quick to change, but “it doesn’t really matter if chaos is your ladder”.

All this being said, Ransom has been limited on his more recent releases by a single-mindedness that places this elite lyricism over musicality. With a push from V Don perhaps, Ran experiments with some tougher triplet flows on “Chaotic Ceremony”; the contrast between this punchy delivery and a rich, lowkey piano line marks an underused technique by the scene. Ransom’s past versatility resurfaces and goes to show how upbeat sounds don’t always come at the sacrifice of lyricism and realness. In fact, it is that very hunger and worldliness that separates him from the minutiae and squabbles below; to reach the top from nothing requires excellence shaped by experience.

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