The Left consists of producer Apollo Brown on the beats, DJ Soko on the scratches, and Journalist 103 on the mic. Soko and 103 are from Detroit, and Brown is from Grand Rapids. While environment always factors into the sound of an album, I don’t know if I’ve come across and album that’s as specific to its time and place as Gas Mask is to Detroit in 2010. It is no secret that times are tough right now, and now we have the soundtrack.

Brown’s production is right on point. Plenty of hip hop producers start with samples of soul records, but few have the subtle touch that Brown does. He has a knack for finding some great building blocks, and then determining just the right balance of space to let the lyrics breath. He then manages to dialogue the music with the lyrics to make some really meaningful songs. It stirs up conflicting emotions of hate, sadness, hope, and love. Sometimes it’s something as simple as short organ melody and a basic drum beat, which with the narration of Journalist 103 brings up powerful imagery of a town full of people struggling to get by.

Journalist 103 proves himself more than capable on this album. While this album definitely has a leftist political agenda, he manages to tie in aspects of life, like his childhood, music, hometown, and romantic life into ruminations of local and global politics. Even though there are multiple guest emcees on the record, it’s still very much 103’s platform. My favorite collaboration is “Statistics,” which pairs him with Detroit native Invincible, an anger-inducing track about the difficulties of ascending the ladder out of lower-class status.

Out of all the aspects of this album, DJ Soko’s contributions are easiest to overlook. This isn’t a turntablist’s showcase, so you’re not getting hit over the head with flashy scratching and mixing and mash-ups. What you get are subtle flourishes that add some great color to the overall product. It’s this maturity and attention to detail that makes this album work.

Often, when a release has seventeen tracks and nine guest emcees, it’s an unfocused mess. As The Left, Apollo Brown, DJ Soko, and Journalist 103 came together to give us one of the strongest releases of the year. It is timely, but this thoughtful, emotional album also has the potential to live past its era.