Concept songs are a great way for rappers to show off, and give listeners an escapist treat, but concept albums are a little tougher. The emcee has to maintain a certain tone and role through each song and string disparate records together so they flow from one to the next and build a full, cohesive narrative. Of course, while keeping all of these balls in the air, the emcee's ultimate goal is to just plain keep the listener's attention. It's not easy, which makes lawyer-turned-emcee Adam WarRock and producer Ruckus Roboticus's comic book rap album The War For Infinity all the more impressive. [Obligatory NSFW language warning]

The War for Infinity is loosely inspired by Jim Starlin, George Pérez, and Ron Lim's Infinity Gauntlet story, which featured Adam Warlock battling against Thanos for the fate of the universe. This classic Marvel story provides loose inspiration but not direct adaptation, as WarRock takes the broad strokes of the tale and crafts a new story where he has to battle Demonos) better known as Tribe One) for the fate of the universe. Over the course of most of the hour-long album, including a couple interludes and a few direct rap battles, he does exactly that.

The concept portion of the album hangs together because WarRock stays focused. He has a specific role in the narrative -- a man-god seeking to do good -- and it is played to the hilt. Every song reveals something new about him or the conflict, either in terms of personality or scale, and works with universal themes about life or despair or simply trying to do what's right, but from a very specific point of view. It works very well because WarRock keeps the point at the forefront of his rhymes.

Listening to the album in its intended order genuinely communicates its story, and it does it without indulging in expository interludes ("And then, this happened..."). The songs are the story, the interludes build the mood, and together it creates a musical expression that's very cool.

In terms of production, Ruckus Roboticus is on point. There's a nice range of beats to be found on the release, from bangers ("Battle (Introductions)") to laid back jazzy tunes ("Laxidazia") to classic New York hip-hop ("Up and Adam"). The music is appropriate to the tone of the album, and actually fits as a fusion of the superhero aesthetic and classic rap. It doesn't feel dated at all, even on tracks that feel like a throwback to earlier styles. Roboticus pulls out some samples that'll be familiar to rap fans (Common's "Yes, yes, y'all" and Pharaohe Monch's "Y'all know the name," for example) and provide arrows pointing toward the era of rap that he's aiming for. Even his scratches help the album feel like a particular kind of record.

WarRock himself has an easygoing and clear style. His voice puts me in mind of Slug from Atmosphere, who he references on one track, but their styles really only share surface similarities. Stylistically, WarRock focuses on storytelling and building a picture, rather than Pharaohe Monch-esque tongue-twisters or overly complicated rhyme schemes. WarRock is all about clarity, and considering the structure of this album, that's a wise choice. If you're telling a story, getting bogged down by magic tricks generally doesn't go over too well.

All together, The War for Infinity is a fun way to spend 60 minutes. There are plenty of obvious and subtle references for comics fans to pore over, and the production and lyricism offers plenty for rap fans to enjoy, too. Rather than hinging on comic book references to sell themselves, Adam WarRock and Ruckus Roboticus crafted an album worth listening to of its musical merits first and foremost, with strong production and emceeing. It's clever, sounds great, and as far as debuts go, well worth your time.

You can buy The War For Infinity from Bandcamp, or listen to a preview and view some free songs (74 and counting!) on WarRock's site. These days, artists have to do a lot more than just release an album to make it, and WarRock is definitely putting in the hours, with free releases and live shows. I'm looking forward to hearing more.

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