Archive for the ‘Oh No’ Category

Review: Guilty Simpson – “Ode to the Ghetto”

January 28, 2008


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.

Advertisements

The ARE & Dem Damb Jacksons

September 28, 2007

Another afternoon of unwinding. Today’s soundtrack includes The ARE’s featuring Dem Damb Jacksons (with Oh No & Kay [of the Foundation]). The ARE, to my knowledge half of the group K-Otix, has released a few free albums (mainly instrumental) through RappersIKnow. Other than them, my only experience has been random tracks from various albums, e.g. there is a K-Otix track on the second Superrappin volume, a cameo on the wholly underrated Art of OneMind (Illmind & S1), and a slew of production credits, i.e. “So Perfect” from Sivion’s Spring of the Songbird. (If anyone can identify the sample of the latter, it’d be much appreciated).

The ARE’s sound is quite reminiscent of Nicolay, and while I usually try to avoid the “if you like ‘x’ you’ll like ‘y’ ” I feel confident in suggesting that if you dig Nicolay’s bouncy-jazzy-synthy sound, you’ll be able to get into The ARE. Many of his beats are lined with distinct drums and you can count on an ill soul sample.

On Featuring Dem Damb Jacksons, so many things are going right I don’t know where to start. A brief synopsis may go something like this: Oh No & Kay both share the same last name of Jackson. The ARE does not. Oh No & Kay handle much of the writing and rhyming, hence the “Dem Damb Jacksons.” For The ARE’s role, he samples heavily from some other famous Jacksons, focusing mainly on The Jacksons/Jackson 5, but thankfully, on “Oh” using Michael’s “Baby Be Mine.” As with Kanye’s “Good Life” (and SWV’s “Right Here”), I’m always an instant fan when MJ is sampled. So, you roll Oh No, Kay, & The ARE out and what you have is a brief (@ 30 mins) listen which is soulful & hip-hop from 0:00 to 30:06 (the end).

Despite being a big Jacksons/MJ fan, the samples used aren’t easily identified. The ARE’s cutting is on point; he incorporates several synthy guitars, and heavy bass..at least on “Keep Trying,” one of my favorite tracks, which features D-Rose (also of the Foundation) and Donwill (of Ilwill & Tanya Morgan fame). On it, Donwill echos the sentiments of many hip hops fans (I know Kyle & I have admitted this several times): “Rap is a hell of drug/you can’t stop, won’t stop…” The track essentially works as a motivational, “this is the shit I had to go through” song.

Listening to this makes me want to listen to my entire The Jacksons collection. The sampling at times is so inconspicuous that I’ve been replaying over and over again trying to pinpoint the exact song. “So Far” is a perfect example – drifty melody backed by bangin’ drums, with MJ dancing in between it all. “I Want You Gone” uses The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” a track that has been sampled several times, yet The ARE’s use is subtle enough that it doesn’t jump out at you.

Another great aspect of the album is it’s free. That’s right. Just like I did, you can head over to RappersIKnow right now and download it (along with the instrumental version). And while your there, be sure to search The ARE and d/l his Still Climbing EP, which features a mix of instrumental and vocal tracks…including the dope “Hip Hop” with Strange Fruit Project.

Albums that are going to come out on a Tuesday…

July 31, 2007

Today is Tuesday. Albums come out on Tuesdays; and rather than discussing albums that drop today (like Common’s Finding Forever), I’m going to look toward future Tuesdays. And in the future, albums from Madlib, Oh No, & M.I.A. can be expected. Now, a brief review of those three artists may make it clear why two are in the same posts – you may think it would make sense to include brothers Madlib & Oh No in the same post. Same mother. Same record label. Both releasing albums in August. Both albums are instrumental. Both albums draw heavily on exotic samples. In the case of Madlib’s, well, he raids cast off Bollywood soundtracks. Younger brother’s Dr. No’s Oxperiment broadens his digging and includes the chopped sounds of Lebanon, Turkey, & Greece. You sense a theme here?

This is where M.I.A. comes in. She too has an album dropping in August. And if you’re familiar with her Arular, you may have guessed the link between her and the Jackson brother releases. M.I.A.’s KALA, much like its predecessor, incorporates sounds that span the globe: Sri Lankan, African, Indian, and Turkish, (I think I hear bag pipes in there too). Looking at the tracklisting, it appears the only Timbaland contribution is “Come Around,” the bonus track that closed out his Timbaland Presents Shock Value. At any rate, this appears to be a truly global endeavor. In addition to the great sounds, M.I.A. also offers thoughts on her world. For example, the lead single seeks to find out “how many boyz are raw/how many no money boyz are rowdy/how many boyz start a war?” Similiar to Arular, it appears KALA is draped in class and ideology clashes, which is given substance when paralleled with the fact that she spent a portion of her childhood in Sri Lanka during civil war. (According to an interview with Rolling Stone, her father was a revolutionary figher in Sri Lanka nicknamed, Arular). Admittedly, I’m not an expert in M.I.A. or her music, but I thought highly of Arular, and am looking forward to her newest offering. Needless to say, I love the amalgamation of seeming discordant sounds.

My realization is there is a seemingly unlimited source of sounds out there [points out the window] and it’s great to see hip hop artists tap into it. Sure, neither Madlib nor Oh No are the first to do so. But they manage to find some exotic $h!t and chop, flip, and arrange it into hip hop. If nothing else, their projects may make other “wordly” sounds more palatable to hip hop ears. Once again, Stonesthrow has reminded me that they’re not afraid of much. In relation to M.I.A., it may be that American hip hop and the international scene are coming full circle. The way I see, the more sounds available, the more potential to make some hot $h!t.

With that, I say bring on the August releases. This has been a pretty fruitful music year and I am looking forward to finishing it out. Hey, don’t forget to get your Finding Forever, need to support the less cacophonous too.

UPDATE: “Come Around” was one of my favorite tracks on Timbaland’s Shock Value, but it comes off as boring along side some of the other tracks on KALA.