When done right, hip hop mixtapes can be amazing journeys through several styles of emcees or they can be a trip through the mind of a DJ/producer who is trying to create another world between the headphones. Port Authority is a glorious collision of both creative routes. The debut album from Brooklyn-based producer Marco “Polo” Bruno is one extremely successful cohesive stream of 18 tracks that are a fresh and seamless blending of classic boom-bap grooves and old school aesthetics that’s presented in a way that both shows his skills as a producer/DJ and the combined strength of 18 emcees. Beyond Kanye West’s late May dropping of his “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” mixtape — loaded with artists with which we are already familiar — Polo is a hungry producer who’s just waiting to be heard.
After just a few years Bruno has shown that he’s a quick study. Completing audio engineering school a few years back, the Toronto-native moved to New York and began to learn his craft by taking notes and fetching coffee for A-list producers before becoming a producer himself. Listening again and again to this album it’s obvious the absorption has overflowed as Polo demonstrates that he has a bright future ahead of him.
It’s amazing to listen to how Polo deftly blended 18 different rappers, all with different styles and cadences and themes into one harmonious collection without sacrificing the production or each rappers individual flow. Mixtape-style albums usually have creative production that overshadows or cancels out bad rapping or vice versa, but Polo succeeds in giving you three options: enjoy his sonic storytelling, the emcees flow or intake both simultaneously.
There’s not really any track to trash; all are solid and full moments like “Marquee’s” chorus which although it’s a song designed to enjoy in the middle of a crowded club, it’s also a song that could be blasted from car speakers as you stroll around town on a warm summer night. “Everybody needs to freeze!/ hold your hands up high/ get lost in moment/ trapped in moment/ lost in the moment/ This is feel good music.”
More than just showing off his producing chops Polo is giving hip hop fans a moment of old school meets new school bliss, a chance to just have fun with the genre that some say is dead. Polo seems to not be listening to the discouraging din.
He does get serious, though, via emcees Kardinal, Offishall, Large Professor, and Ed O.G. with “The Radar”, “War” and “Time and Place” who all offer up articulate and socially-minded attacks that bum rush the impostor rappers who’ve cash in on and jumped into the overflowing and unfortunately lucrative dumpster of bling rap. It’s a call out but a call out that has far more substance than just a hollow dis.
There are soft moments, too. On “All My Love” and “Speak Softly” Polo lays down slow jazz samples that beautifully highlight the vulnerable and candid lyrical reflections of growing up fatherless, with only mom and hip hop as remaining allies to survive the tough streets. It’s a stunning introspection that I wish more hip hop explored and expressed.
Polo has really set the bar high and once this album begins to make its way into the ears of fans, the expectations on the sophomore release might be insurmountable. We’ll deal with the future when it arrives. For now, plain and simple and if you’re a hip hop mixtape junkie, you need to go and get this album NOW.