Review: Guilty Simpson – “Ode to the Ghetto”

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Guilty Simpson – “Ode to the Ghetto”
Stones Throw Records 2008

In a word: boring…

I’ve listened to the album about 10 times or so now, and I remain unconvinced that Guilty can hold down an album on his own–even one with an all-star production lineup like this. I won’t mince words because I like Stones Throw or Madlib or Dilla or Detroit: Guilty got exposed on Ode to the Ghetto.

I initially thought that this LP had the potential to bring us back to the golden era where an album featuring sub-par emcees could still be a banger because of a ridiculous production lineup. I was wrong. I don’t know if it was an attempt to match Guilty’s lazy delivery, but even some of the producers come weak on Ode.

First, the good part.

“American Dream” is indeed dope. Pete makes the proper reference to Madlib’s Beat Konducta in India project, and that Bollywood/Near Eastern influence he’s been getting out of his system. This beat is vivid, multi-layered, and it changes frequently–necessary busy-ness when Guilty Simpson is involved. Guilty’s deadpan, baritone delivery works well here, if only as an additional layer to an otherwise stellar Madlib beat (in other words, a rapper like Phonte or Blu might not sound as great on this beat). Then again, this is a familiar formula for many of my other favorable Guilty Simpson experiences. Though I’d ultimately be disappointed, this track got me excited for the rest of the album. It was well placed.

The title track “Ode to the Ghetto” also works well, with Madlib’s kid brother Oh No lacing an old-schoolish drum loop over some more Near Eastern vocal samples. There are also some significant changes here, and Guilty probably writes his best hook on the album. Again, the verdict is that Guilty Simpson is only tolerable on a well-crafted, complex sort of beat. Anything less exposes his weakness as an emcee, as I’ll get into below.

“Getting B*****” is one of the last highlights from this offering. I must admit that Denaun Porter has become one of my favorite producers in the last six months or so. His beats are so crisp and loud, yet manage retain the critical amount of grime that keeps them street-worthy. His works also possess a soulful quality that is hard to describe–though it is undoubtedly aided by Mr. Porter’s unique, falsetto singing voice that finds its way onto his tracks. Guilty is dope here. This beat provides the busy, noisy, and dirty playground that Guilty Simpson needs. All of the above might as well apply to “Pigs” as well.

But that’s the extent of it…

Guilty Simpson is too often reliant on his image as a product of the streets, and lacks the lyrical skills to repackage that image into something more novel. Like many commercial rappers, he is peddling swagger, and not much else. That swagger works here and there (see tracks listed above; also see entries in my music library from Yo Gotti, Lil’ Wayne, T.I. and others), but ulitmately, the popcicle-stick-and-bubble-gum foundation of pure swag is far too weak to sustain a full-length album worthy of any critcal praise. I could see some of these tracks turning into a solid 12″, and maybe an EP, but not much else.

“Kinda Live” is a track that I think Mr. Porter should have saved for a more versatile artist (it reminds one of Jay Electronica’s “Hard to Get”); Guilty just sounds uncomfortable switching up his flow for this unorthodox arrangement. I wanted to like this track, and I’ve probably listened to it more than any other on the album, but in the end I was left with the same feeling that one gets when watching George W. Bush squirm when he’s answering a question that his aides didn’t prepare him for. This is dope track but it was not cut out for Guilty. This is not to mention the subject matter, which, now that I have mentioned it, doesn’t work here either.

“Kill Em” and “Almighty Dreadnaughtz” are the two single worst beats I’ve heard from a Stones Throw offering in a while. This wouldn’t make some myspace artist’s mixtapes. That shit was just lazy. If Mark Jackson was writing this, I’m confident he would add a, “Come on, Peanut Butter Wolf, ya better than that!

“Several of the other Madlib and Dilla beats take on that wackier tone reminiscent of some of the Jaylib material, with a more stripped down construction, which has the effect of exposing Guilty for the sub-par emcee he really is. Simple “cat, bat, hat” rhymes proliferate, and with a subtle beat, you have no choice but to focus on the lyrics. Songs like “Robbery”, “Yikes”, and “I Must Love You” take special emcees to make them work. Frankly, sometimes I think these tracks might only work with Lord Quas on the track.

“My Moment” is an interesting, synthy direction for its producer, Black Milk; yet the result is the same, Guilty’s lyrics are in the forefront, and they just put you to sleep. He ain’t talking about anything, and this truth is painfully clear when you’re forced to listen, and not distracted by a loud, multi-layer Madlib or Oh No concoction.

“Footwork” and “My Moment” kinda knock, but they’re not really my style. I’ll give Guilty the benefit of the doubt on these, but I’m not sure that this is anywhere near enough to tilt the scales for the album as a hole. Oh No did lace “Footwork” on that long outro (but you’ll note that the best part of the track is the part where Guilty ain’t rapping).

Given the high regard that many of us hold for Guilty Simpson’s friend and mentor J Dilla, Dilla’s infamous blessing upon Guilty as his “favorite emcee” made all of us stop and take notice of this guy’s career. I’ve often wondered what it was that Dilla saw in Guilty, and I listened intently for it. I guess I’ll have to keep listening–it just won’t be Ode to the Ghetto.

RATING: 2 of 5 tapes.

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10 Responses to “Review: Guilty Simpson – “Ode to the Ghetto””

  1. Peter Squire Says:

    P – “Guilty certainly has Percee’s grit; does he have anything else?”

    K – “Again, the verdict is that Guilty Simpson is only tolerable on a well-crafted, complex sort of beat.”

    Mark Jackson reference – zing!

  2. Peter Squire Says:

    You know, I’ve read very little on Guilty Simpson’s upcoming “Ode.” (did TT break the story?) I’ve already nodded to Kyle that he said what I was thinking (RE Guilty lyrically), but couldn’t find my backbone yesterday to say it…I tend to be softened up with beats, and overall, I still like most of the beats I’ve heard. Continuing the Percee comparison, will we perhaps see an “Ode to the Ghetto: Madlib Remixes” like we saw with “Perseverance?”

  3. spaiseone Says:

    I rated this album kinda high. Guilty has the rare ability to craft his lyrics fluently and smoothly. I think to many emcees nowadays cannot hold tight to a subject and guilty can. When is the last time you heard an emcee drop two verses that not once stray off topic or have random puns or punchlines. I think i’m critical of lyrics a little more than everybody. Its not that he’s boring to me, it as if he’s so cool about it and nonchalant that it seems like he’s just speaking to me.

  4. sweeneykovar Says:

    worst review ever. this shit bangs

  5. joel Says:

    let me state a fact here, there is absolutely no beat ever created that would be better with quas on it than guilty simpson.

  6. Doobious Says:

    This review must be from a southern rap music lover. This album is hottttt! The Real Me track is off the chain. Listen to this album again playa, you missed somethin’

  7. Seriously Says:

    2 outta 5? That’s laughable… YOU got exposed!

    This review in a word: boring…

  8. Age Says:

    Worst Blog EVER!

  9. Getting Riches… « Trading Tapes Says:

    […] About two months ago, I had the following to say about Guilty Simpson’s “Getting B***ches”:  “Getting B*****” is one of the […]

  10. Guilty Simpson – Stress (Produced By J Dilla) vs. Beatles – Eleanor Rigby | Foci Says:

    […] wonder he was Dilla’s favorite emcee Parental […]

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