Tame One & Parallel Thought, “Acid Tab Vocab (The Definitive Edition)”
By Dash Lewis · February 06, 2024 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, T-Shirt/Shirt, Sweater/Hoodie

Near the end of “Wrong Side of da Tracks,” the third cut on Artifacts’s classic 1994 debut Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Tame One utters what would become a defining phrase. He raps “I’m live like the third rail” casually, his sing-song delivery hiding the intensity behind the sentiment. Tame One was always a surprise; he’d pop up on a song to share outlandish tales of drug-induced misadventures, vibrant as an end-to-end burner on a subway car. His distinctly smooth flow, gliding across a beat like muscle memory, disguised his menace—Tame sounded like he was smiling with a knife between his teeth. He was a meticulous technician, a real rapper’s rapper, a luminous talent who brought out the best in his collaborators. When he died in 2022, at the far-too-young age of 52, it left a hole in hip-hop no one’s quite been able to fill.

Originally released in 2009, Acid Tab Vocab, produced entirely by fellow New Jerseyites Parallel Thought, was a landmark release in Tame’s discography. It was the second in a trilogy of albums the trio would create, the follow-up to Da Ol’ Jersey Bastard and precursor to Parallel Uni-verses, which added Del the Funky Homosapien to the mix. Acid Tab Vocab is perhaps the finest of the three, with a focus and ferocity nearly unmatched across Tame’s body of work. He’s at his loosest here, his delivery splashing across the production like spilled paint. He finds bizarre pockets, tapping into a rhythmic fluidity that feels both confident and exploratory, as if retracing steps in a labyrinth. Tame’s writing is dense, filled to the brim with dizzying internal rhymes and spiraling sentence structures that take multiple listens to completely comprehend. There are tons of tongue-twisting tangents throughout, like this especially bonkers phrase from “Anxiety Attack”: “Mum for half the summer, dumb and dumber cat/ Blooper, blunder, super under underground about to steal your thunder.”

Tame and Parallel Thought have immaculate chemistry; it’s clear the duo knew what sounds complemented and challenged Tame’s berserk energy. The beats on Acid Tab Vocab glow with a trippy, harsh-toke sheen; they’re unmistakably psychedelic, but not in a spacey, mind-expanding way, tapping instead into the hard-edged chemical comedown that punctuates the experience of combining too many substances at once. The layered, hypnotic funk of these beats feels like the appropriate backdrop for plentiful references to molly, PCP, LSD, and what one can only assume is really good weed.

Though Acid Tab Vocab wasn’t Tame’s final project, it works a reintroduction to his work. It’s Tame at his most madcap, pupils dilated to the size of dinner plates, maniacally laughing at how colorful the air looks. It’s also an accurate and complex portrait of a deeply flawed human: There are painful moments of misogyny, genuinely concerning drug-warped soliloquies, and an undercurrent of violence threatening to explode at any moment. Tame knew who he was to a certain extent, exclaiming “you guys are horrified by what I glorify” on “Go Away.” But he was also an incredible talent, a singular voice with an outlandish and beguiling discography. It’s exciting to know that his legacy lives on and new listeners will take the trip into his kaleidoscopic world.

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