You may not know the name now, but on The Tunnel’s End, New York Rapper Marlon Craft displays an impressive array of skills and vision that could very well propel him to the top of the hip-hop game.
Album Grade: A+
While the recent Grammy nods for “Album of the Year” and “Rap Album of the Year” lavishing additional praise on Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN and Jay-Z’s 4:44 are certainly well deserved; people loving these mainstream major label albums should make some room for some independently released albums.
Specifically, The Tunnel’s End, by Hell’s Kitchen rapper Marlon Craft.
While Lamar and Jay-Z’s albums are daring and defining works, their quality is of no shock. Both are skilled masters and DAMN and 4:44 give ample evidence to that fact. Craft comes out of nowhere with a sound, story and precision that is old, new, compelling and completely unexpected. His high-minded concept, and the message of this release is engaging and thought-provoking. Not just the best Hip-Hop release of the year, this is one of the best albums of 2017 in any genre.
On The Tunnel’s End, Craft uses the metaphor of the New York Subway to describe a journey towards social enlightenment. Like the city itself, it is filled with a variety of interesting characters and ever changing situations. It is sometimes bewildering, sometimes scary, but ultimately exhilarating as it meshes to tell a broader, overarching story.
“The One (Intro)/TTE 1” opens the album with the recorded voice of the subway conductor advising passengers to “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” Craft uses the conductor’s words as a metaphor for the greater psychological and philosophical quest he embarks on. What are “the closing doors” and why would a disembodied voice give an instruction to “stand clear” of them? Craft takes the everyday to deftly ask bigger questions. What does this statement mean, and more importantly, how does it hold people back?
The album is populated by characters to help illustrate his narrative; the wizened elder who brings a voice of reasoned experience, the abstraction of the conductor, the rough-lived innocence of a little girl. There are the other passengers who ride along, each unconcerned; they have their own stops. Ultimately, there is the unseen motorman who “drives out of pace to inflate all our discrepancies.” This is the imposed societal ill that infects the journey and has the most to gain from ensuring the closing doors are never blocked and the train continues its path undisturbed.
Dreamlike soundscapes musically illustrate the morning hangover and anger that begins “Bad Day Music.” Craft vividly describes the pressures he feels, largely created by his own antagonism and frustration. His displeasure is palpable as he describes a life lived with a perceived lack of success, as if somehow owed. The subway is crowded and every interaction is viewed through a lens of threatened fear. He expresses the universal feeling that “the world is out to get me.” This perspective is challenged in the last seconds of the track when he encounters a young girl in obviously much rougher shape than him. She asks if HE is alright while also asking for a dollar for her homeless mother. When she ends their interaction with a smile and a sign-off of “My name is Hope, and I love to ride the train!” something has changed.
The protagonist, and the perspective of the album has changed. He is more willing to look beyond himself to find answers to questions he didn’t even know he had been carrying. It is the beginning of a breathtaking, heartfelt journey.
“The Internet Lied” castigates technology’s ability to distract society from things that matter. Craft has the good sense to admit his own culpability, pausing in his preaching to further his point by rapping about checking his phone to see notification that he has gained another fan on social media. It is funny, self-deprecating and reveals deep thought placed behind every clever line.
Obvious single “Brainiacs” is a breezy and bright mid-tempo song that exalts every person ever made to feel as though they didn’t belong with “the cool crowd.” He calls out the “tough guys who talk a game” as oppressors who revel in shallow swagger and advises the geeky outsider to “fight that ignorance with passion” and to “speak through your actions.” His message is one of informed positivity. At no point does he minimize slights felt, but uses gritty realism to elevate the bullied oppressed in celebration of the gifts they bring. His unabashed jazzy delivery of the words contain its own swagger untouched by the affliction of “coolness” and is refreshing and honest.
The spoken word interlude “The Closing Doors” is the album’s centerpiece and the most pointed 2 minutes released in 2017. He describes how society, like a train, works in systems designed to keep people in conflict and “falling for gimmicks” while missing the greater issues that a more cooperative approach might solve. It is a call for social justice and the importance unity will ultimately play in order to form a true equalitarian society. It is jaw-dropping, intelligent and precise.
Lyrically challenging, the thought-provoking The Tunnels’ End is a transcendent album from an artist who may be unknown now, but if he continues making music like this, it won’t be for long.
Bottom Line: An inspired, deeply thought album by a prodigious talent who awaits discovery by both the fan and non-fan of hip-hop. The rare album that may change how you may view the world. A triumph.
By Daniel G. Moir