Albums that are made to be listened to from front to back are feeling fewer and farther between in the streaming era. There’s an art to that type of setup that allows a curated collection to feel like a movie in which each track takes us to a different scene.
One of the best — if not the best — example of this, was 1999’s Prince Among Thieves, in which producer Prince Paul, known for his early work with De La Soul, MF DOOM, and Handsome Boy Modeling School, curated skits and appearances from hip-hop royalty of the era to concoct a humorous, occasionally action-filled tale about one man’s rise and fall in the streets, connecting it with an equally fabulous set of songs that underscored the narrative.
It feels as though Charlotte rapper 6 Cardinal and producer King Caiman had this framework in mind when they came together last December to drop Go Ask Owsley. In fact, 6 Cardinal felt so strongly about how the eight songs on the EP should be played that he released them as one track, clocking in at 17 minutes and 24 seconds.
Going through the long track/short EP, we’re treated to scenes that start down in the dirt before hitting a rise up from the bottom, featuring a handful of horrorcore visuals that make the collection feel like a gritty independent film that gives more after each listen.
As the hazy television audio fades in and out, we’re hit at the start mainly from a set of blared out guitar riffs in the opening instrumental track, “Awake” — the moment I opened my eyes wide and my attention was taken hostage, uncertain of what was to come next. A more perfect device couldn’t have been planted to bypass the senses through a little alarm, and to great effect.
From there, the first half of the EP embarks on a central tone of aggressive self-defense, with 6 Cardinal taking the role of narrator and fighting back against opposing forces, kicking off the second track with plenty of bombast.
“Arms locked/ locked in position/ flipping switches/ kickin’ on Fort Knox/ they made our decision/ we’re just skiddin’ living in hard knocks…”
Carrying a more frustrated voice than a hostile one, Cardinal’s opening lines in “High Ground” feel like a last resort, a desperate call to arms as the chorus asks the audience directly where they’ll be when the inevitable occurs.
The next two tracks, “Matt Murdock” and “Playing The Hand Dealt,” keep the theme alive through invoking vigilante sensibilities, crafting solutions by our own hands when all else fails. Guest artist Travisty cues up the disconnect between what people see versus what they don’t know (“kinda funny how they’re talkin’ but never lived there…), while also acknowledging — albeit begrudgingly at times — that we still have to make do with the reality we operate within in the latter.
Each track after the halfway point gets gradually darker, with “My 6 Shooter Stay Busy” adding horror elements into the imagery, including a reference to one of Edgar Allan Poe’s greatest stories (“a telltale sign/ our hearts were involved/ a body up under the floor…”), while maintaining that edict that any solution to stay on top goes.
Afterward, “Clear Coat” veers off from the darker tones for a quick track with Cardinal and Drone Phonetik emphasizing the art and mastery of the final touch, providing the message that anything worth doing is worth finishing in perfect form.
On the last two tracks, the tension lets loose, making for the most fun we’ve had throughout the project. Rife with supernatural Easter eggs, hidden in how Cardinal illustrates his movements, even the song titles— “Pax Aeterna” cut directly from the German vampire drama of the 2010s — add to the flair.
When taken together, the album is an episodic mix of fantasy fiction that occasionally dives into the realm of horror, brought back with strong doses of reality and an overarching theme of doing what it takes to survive in the darkest parts of our lives today.
The structure of the beats and backing soundtrack of each song is distinct, allowing each track to be cut off and maintain much of its own flavor while still linking to what the main messaging illustrates.
Shorter than a sitcom episode but just long enough to leave listeners with something to chew on, Go Ask Owsley is a curated listen you can pop corn to while also drawing inspiration for the moments when the chips are down.
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