I suppose at the outset of this review I should offer a bit of a disclaimer. I'm reviewing a hip hop album, but I don't listen to hip hop like I used to anymore. I usually buy an album every six months or so, and no, that's not because I download for free. Let's just say hip hop and I have grown apart over the years. Every now and then the vibe returns and we connect like old times, but it's not the same. I've gotten older, wiser, more mature, and hip hop, well, it has gotten older I suppose. I think it's safe to say I'm one of the "people" Common was referring to when he asked in 2005's Chi City, "I wonder if these wack n*gg@s realize they wack, and they the reason that my people say they tired of rap?" I'm a grown man, and I've taken to appreciating music that can grow with me. Sometimes that's jazz, sometimes that's soul, funk, Afrobeat, folk, rock, I'll even get down with classical when the mood is right. That said, there is and probably always will be a special part of my soul that tingles with the head nodding, neck straining, chest thumping, heart clutching, banging beats and word play of a good hip hop album. Of late, I've been wishing and looking for an album that can do all of these things for me. An album that's sophisticated musically and lyrically, that's creative and witty, that's fun and energetic and thoughtful and deep, all weaved together into an experience that doesn't make me want to hit the skip button. With that in mind, Dialek's Human Becoming is a refreshing antidote to the hip hop noise in the room. Human Becoming jumps off to a quick start with Dialek carefully pulling back the curtains on his approach to the craft of emceeing in Driven. With the precision of a chef with a Ginsu knife he let's us into the world of a passionate artist who, rather than painting a caricature of his life for the public as so many rappers do, pours his energy into describing the truth of his life in ways we can understand and identity with. The song opens with, "I believe if what you speak is real, that's the kind of music that people can really feel. I will not pretend that I don't cry or that I've never been hurt, I almost died my first seconds on Earth" laced over a stunning arrangement of piano riffs and pounding bass, and it doesn't let up from there. Dialek takes us on a journey through his thoughts and his life's journey throughout the album. We see his optimism and perseverance in tracks like My Day (my personal nominee for happiest hip hop song of all time!) and the instant classic Still Here, featuring an outstanding cameo from close confidant Alibi. We get to drink in his faith in the power of the human spirit on D.R.E.A.M. where he reminds us that, "The beauty in life is we all have a choice, when nobody is listening you still have a voice. All it takes, patience and a way to progress, to define reality embrace and manifest." In more reflective moments Dialek takes us into his deepest thoughts on healthy relationships, the influence of hustling culture on hip hop artists and listeners, growth and change, and the meaning of life and death. A hip hop album, no matter how mature, wouldn't be complete without a track professing an artist's gifts and greatness. In a refreshing reinvention of the format, Dialek offers us the lyrically impressive What U Need? a remarkable concoction of rock guitar chords and hip hop bass (think Rick Rubin's 99 Problems, but with more grit) where he reminds us to "Please, don't try to compare me to anyone you heard before. They're in the 90s I'm in three thousand thirty four!" In probably the most unique song on the album Sincerely, Dialek pours his heart out in tribute to his closest friends and collaborators. Spoken like a man approaching 30 who has learned a thing or two about the importance of telling those you love how much they mean to you while they're still here to listen, perhaps no song on the album better captures what separates Dialek as a grown man in a genre where emotionally stunted man-boys dominate the market. Overall, Human Becoming is a well-rounded work of art. Like a painting, it's beauty is best appreciated by looking closely at the details, the small peaks and valleys of the artist's strokes, and then stepping back to soak in the big picture. If, like me, you've been feeling like hip hop has been stuck in high school for the last decade, almost willfully refusing to evolve, and you're wondering (and yearning for!) what hip hop could look like if it were to grow up, Human Becoming just might be an important part of the answer. --BGZ.