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Mike Arson “Playing With Matches”: Review

Starting off a track with a line like “Yeah that beat sound good, don’t it?” is saying what I assume most hyped rappers and producers think when a certain beat catches their ear when starting a project. In Mike Arson’s case, the man has practically been drowning in beats for other people’s albums for years now and it was no surprise to me that he saved some of his own fire to play with for his debut album, Playing With Matches.

Mike Arson, of Against The Grain, has executive produced for a handful of local artists over the years, including for his own group, and a handful of guest features, such as the track “Rappers Do It Better,” off of JB!!’s latest album DEADication, released earlier this year. Arson’s portfolio includes executive producing Almost Gone by Masai (2008), Against The Grain by ATG (2011), Almost Home by Masai (2013) and Growing Pains (2013). Spanning over 7 years of producing for other people’s projects, saying its exciting for Arson to have his own album finally released is an understatement.

Building a name as both a rapper and a producer, Arson’s arsenal is filled with all sorts of tricks and talent. My favorite part about Playing With Matches is that while this was an opportunity for Arson to do his thing fully as a solo artist for the first time, he still decided to bring in a handful of features from other artists to build with, while leading the reins of the direction he wanted to go in. This album is a family affair, and I will always love that element about our local rap scene. (Thanks everyone.)

Playing With Matches is solid from the quick 16 bar intro to the final track.

The title track doesn’t appear on the album until the bottom half of the tracklist, and by the time I got to it, I already had circled four or five tracks that stood out to me. Tracks such as “Don’t It,” “Rooftops” ft. Masai, “STFU” ft. Madness, “Redrum (Handsome Gang)” ft. Kaine & Zae Biggz, “Love Don’t Love” all stood out to me as I kept going back to them and getting parts stuck in my head. The title track is one of my favorites, and is a posse cut featuring Giant Gorilla Dog Thing and Masai.

In today’s fast-paced world of new music constantly being released, for me personally, the true mark of a good album is if certain tracks have me going back for a second or third listen, and that is true of a majority of the songs on this album. Listening from top to bottom and back again, common themes emerge that remind me why I love hip hop and rap, and Arson’s album even has some humor to it, which is reflective of the artist’s personality.

This album also addresses certain elements of the rap world that Arson has had some issues and beef with, and he addresses them without holding back. Several tracks on this album are definitely reflective of the title of the album, Playing With Matches. Arson knows what he’s doing and doesn’t care if you don’t like it, period. He’s focused now, as reflective in “From The Sun”.

While Arson has some humor to his verses, such as on the track “STFU” and “Redrum (Handsome Gang)” and a generally positive perspective on life despite its struggles, the album holds a serious tone overall and Arson is one to be taken seriously. He’s not playing around anymore in the studio, and he’s not going anywhere either. The production on this album was top notch, and I really enjoyed hearing Arson’s voice for more than just a feature here or there. For a debut album, I was truly impressed, but not surprised that I’d be impressed.

On November 29th, the official release party will take place at Ship’s Pub in Albany. The venue is new to live music and rap shows in general, and I’m excited to have a new place in our city to host. The line-up included DJ Trumastr, Carl Daniels & The Black Box, Mike Larry Draw, and Mike Arson, with several featured artists as well.

Be sure to check out the debut of the video for “Rooftops” as premiered on SYFFAL, and see you at the release party!

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