may be the hardest working Baltimore rapper you probably haven't heard of, with a thick discography that appears to grow every few months. His 2009 included a solo full-length and two collaborative EPs and, at the top of 2010, he came right back with a new album,
Free Spirit of a Troubled Soul
. True to his name, ScholarMan is a calm, almost professorial vocal presence, kicking knowledge in a more overtly educational way than the average rapper. Within two minutes of pressing play on
, he's sampling a snippet of Pete Rock and CL Smooth's "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" as if giving a rap history lesson via his own personal experiences.
Unfortunately, like much hip-hop that celebrates the music itself, ScholarMan's music is more earnest than entertaining in making its case. Listening to the lead single, "I Love Hip-Hop Music," featuring
, it's hard to doubt their sincerity, but their joy isn't palpable, their passion never bursting out of the speakers. Over the coarse of an album, ScholarMan's steady, controlled delivery starts to get monotonous, and his wordplay rarely gets more evocative than "ugly like the dude from
Lord of the Rings
But ScholarMan is also a producer, and it's on
's beats that he really finds his voice and demonstrates the breadth of his talent. Throughout the album, trebly, gracefully chopped up string samples float over boom-bap drums and lock together in beautifully unpredictable grooves. "Reap, Sow" has the clicky atmosphere and loose swing of a RZA track down pat, while the scratched vocal samples on the chorus recall DJ Premier. And when ScholarMan shows his knowledge of hip-hop through his beats, it makes what he raps about resonate all the more.