Tsu Surf Transitions From The Battle Arena To The Booth With ‘Newark’ (Album Review)


I wasn’t quite sure how to go about writing this piece.

Like most rap fans, I was used to seeing Surf’s name in the battle rap arena. Newark is a change of pace, to say the least. Tsu Surf is a star within the battle rap community and has made a name for himself with his quick wit, intricate rhymes, and raw energy. While these skills have served him well in the sport of battle rapping, it isn’t often that battle rappers can transfer their success in that environment to success in the booth.

However, with rappers such as Canibus, Cassidy, and more recently, Meek Mill, we have seen some rappers make the streets to commercial move with some success. More notably, Meek Mill had the #1 rap album in the country last summer with his latest album, Dreams Worth More than Money. These artists proved that an artist can be successful in both worlds.

As of late, there has been a resurgence of interest in the art of verbal sparring on the mic. Artists such as Surf, Murda Mook, Loaded Lux, Hitman Hoffa, and Math Hoffa have all amassed large followings online that feeds an increasing viewership of any sponsored rap battle on Youtube. Conceited and Hitman Holla have both become mainstays on Nick Cannon’s ‘Wild ‘N Out’, on MTV2, where they continually use their battle rapping skills during the freestyle portion of the show. Therefore, the internet and television are both furthering the propulsion of battle rapping into a more widespread sub-genre of the art.

When it comes to battle rapping, one can expect Tsu to use his wit and his passion to beat his opponent. Whereas in the booth, it’s his storytelling that really makes his music enjoyable. The wit and aggression only serve as supplements. Throughout the project, Surf shows the listener his hood from his perspective. He carefully crafts small narratives that tell the stories of the people who come from his neighborhood, all the while inserting his own past into the mix.

Another factor that leads to the development of the album is it’s storytelling. New Jersey artists such as Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Joe Budden are at very different locations on the hip-hop spectrum, but they are all known for creating memorable albums that used stories and personal anecdotes to create songs that tugged at the heartstrings and stimulated the mind. Even though Tsu Surf comes from a battle rapping background, he takes from his New Jersey predecessors to create emotional music with a more coarse delivery. An example of such is the song “Her Problems”. In that song, Tsu Surf uses the narratives of troubled young girls from his hood who have good intentions, yet still get caught in the traps of the street. Coupled with the somber and muted instrumental, Surf quietly ruminates on the fates of these women and their abusive relationships, their encounters with an unwanted pregnancy, and other inner demons. The listener can’t help but empathize with these young women, knowing that these situations don’t only occur in Surf’s neighborhood.

However the album isn’t just filled with emotion. When Tsu isn’t making you feel with your heart, he’s making you think with his bars. Throughout Newark, Tsu displays his versatility on the microphone. On his features with Joe Budden and Jadakiss, Tsu adopts the personality of the young protégé. On “Conversations”, Tsu Surf and Joe Budden trade verses, discussing the evils of the industry and how Surf can avoid the pitfalls that Budden couldn’t shake. “Loyalty” is one of my favorite tracks on the record because Tsu Surf make the effort to push himself lyrically and stand on his own two feet alongside Jadakiss. This is no easy task for any rapper regardless of their level of experience in the game. “GXOXD” sees Tsu Surf get back on his hood shit with Manolo Rose, a young New York upstart who has become a favorite in the streets. These three features alone show Surf providing a diverse product that has songs that can be enjoyed by backpackers and clubheads alike, thus broadening his appeal.

Newark is a quality mixtape. Tsu Surf created a project that serves to silence his critics who claim that Surf is only a battle rapper. His talent extends to crafting true art. While it isn’t as refined as many of his contemporaries, that certainly is not a detractor. Hip Hop is a genre that can be grimy and hard. Sometimes that’s the only way a story can truly be told. Sometimes it is the only way it can honestly be felt. This is why Newark is a project that serves as a true reflection of Tsu Surf and where he comes from.


Purchase Newark on iTunes.

Talk to Jordan about music, how you felt about Newark, and the woes of being a Knicks fan via Twitter.