Brooklyn rapper Saga and Chicago Producer Thelonious Martin team up for a 12 track collaboration that serves as the soundtrack to a “casual riot.” While the title might suggest fiery and bombastic production and angsty lyrics Molotov is quite the opposite, a layered combination of charismatic production and honest flows. Thelonious Martin’s productions are most reminiscent of a blend of the watery beats and samples of Jake One and 9th Wonder mixed with the equally sample heavy but lo-fi sound of J Dilla and Knxwledge which is wholly successful and complements Saga’s confident but mellow flow.
From the intro we cut to a similarly smooth beat with a demure bassline over crisp percussion that sees Saga continuing to complement producer extraordinaire and vice-versa. The mildly out of place bars “I’m cocky, you’re a cock sucker at a truck stop, when I make a buck that don’t mean that your buck stops” are largely admissible, as Saga moves on to name dropping, Jean Claude van Damme and Tom Cruise and comparing his city to the grandeur of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This track establishes Saga’s fondness for boastful lyrics delivered in a very non-threatening way. There are metaphors aplenty from Saga, who is quite comfortable degrading his opposition on bars like, “I run a clinic and take on these terminal cases, euthanasia, but not kids with Chinese faces, mercy killings, amputations from the neck up, and what’s worse you only came for the checkup.”
The duo only employs four very complementary features throughout the record, the first being Fashawn, a California rapper signed to Nas’ Mass Appeal Records. On “Yesterday,” a muddled sample of the Beatles’ iconic song by the same title creates a lethargic track that allows Saga and Fashawn to recollect their growth as rappers. Interestingly, Saga’s third verse begins with a cadence evocative of 2007 fellow Brooklynite Talib Kweli on Eardrum.
A majority of this record could be classified as reflective but cheerful, typified best on “Misunderstood,” and “Never Mind.” Particularly, on “Never Mind,” Chicago singer TheMIND offers his signature ethereal vocals (that dominated his own album, Summer Camp, from 2016) on a track guided by quaint bells behind a strolling bassline.
Alternatively, “Where We Live (Brooklyn) is an ode to his home town, as Saga spits over one of the more deconstructed of Martin’s beats, with the bass having a slight trill, comparable to the sound out of a blown out speaker. The lo-fi composition interpolates Roy Ayers, “We Live In Brooklyn” on the hook, while Saga’s second verse is probably the best on the album, as he contrasts pervasive social materialism and consumerism with the poverty and gentrification of Brooklyn.
Scratches of that classic “Ah Yeah!” sample from Run DMC’s “Here We Go (Live at the FunHouse)” gives way to the most boom-bap of beats on the tape. The end of the verse has some great delivery, “Here’s a battle plan, diagram, cut your weight like diet plans, kill a man with kilograms, flip ya words like anagrams,” that unfortunately gets muddled by some off-kilter alliteration on Saga’s “I’m just a nobody” line.
Ultimately, none of the tracks overstay their welcome, with only one lasting over 4 minutes and the whole project lasting a mere 36:30. Molotov is kindly carried by a sincerity to Saga’s vocals. He, nor any of the features over-perform, while managing to avoid sounding like run-of the mill struggle rappers. Additionally, the lo-fi charm of Thelonious Martin’s production complements Saga’s authenticity, as they present an album that follows through on the riotous notions of the intro by riling up motivational themes of individuality and hard work to achieve personal success in a “beautiful riot.”