Archive for the ‘Stones Throw’ Category

Mayer Hawthorne & Stonesthrow

February 18, 2009

A) Any release information on Mayer Hawthorne? That “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” track is great; I’ve been bumpin’ that as I did Darondo’s “Didn’t I” for days upon days.

B) In reviewing past posts, I realized that Kyle and I dedicated a lot of space to Guilty’s Ode to the Ghetto; a disproportionate amount for such a mediocre album. (That was over a year ago!)


Revisiting Guilty

February 29, 2008

In January, I had this to say from leaked bits of Guilty’s Ode to the Ghetto (Stonesthrow, due out 03/25):

Lyrically, I think a Guilty album is what I need to get into his style. Thus far, he’s been a cameo guy who has impressed me at times…

It’s tough to think how Guilty will be on an entire album after mainly knowing him from verse to verse. It was very similar to Percee P – the guy went 20 or so years with random tracks and a number of cameos, and then boom, has entire album. I think it worked, although I think his potency waned as the album progressed. Guilty certainly has Percee’s grit; does he have anything else? I’m interested to see if Guilty’s rhymes/style have LP endurance.

It’s been a month, and we still have another month before Ode sees its official release, but I’m starting to see more and more “previews” on the net. I suppose it’s not surprising that the sentiments have varied. I’ve read some pretty impressive thoughts on it, and others that feel Stonesthrow has dropped the ball on this project. The world of the blogs.

The good news. You may attribute it to the axiom – familiarity breeds content – but I’ve remained warm to most of the production on Ode. But, even this has a glass-half-empty interpretation, I suppose. I think of it this way: when I first saw the production credits, I straightened my glasses and let out an “ooh wee.” But at best, from book end to book end, Ode to the Ghetto’s production is just as I felt, warm. With Dilla, Madlib, and Black Milk, it should be hot; that’s what the “ooh wee” anticipated at least. Some of my favorites include: “American Dream,” “She Won’t Stay At Home,” and “My Moment.” I agree with Kyle Re. “Kinda Live” too. I alluded to it in January: “Lately, it seems to me that Madlib’s beats are becoming a bit more formulaic,” and to a certain degree, I think that extends to most of Ode. I give the production a B-.

The not bad, but not good news. I asked myself how Guilty’s cameo grit would pulse throughout an entire album (see above). Lyrically, I get the impression that Guilty isn’t comfortable when changing roles, e.g. going from grit to for ladies. Listen, most of the cameos or random solo joints he’s had over the past 4 years, I’ve loved. When given a knockin’ drumline, he can sting like bee with the best, e.g. “My Moment” & “Footwork”; but I don’t think he can float like a butterfly, e.g. “I Must Love You,” which beat I really like, but Guilty comes off flat (imo). Over the course of an entire album, Guilty doesn’t provide (me with) enough fire, and he melts when not over a bangin’ beat.

On the one hand, part of me doesn’t want to come off as a finicky blogger who unnecessarily breaks an album down, kind of like token sex or violence in a movie. The other part of me thinks that if it’s striking me as such, I should speak my mind. After all, that’s why I blog. I commented to Kyle when he made his original “review” of Ode to the Ghetto that he shared much of what I thought, while I lacked the cojones to say it. So be it. I’m not afraid to concede that.

Ode to the Ghetto is still going to have its place in my Stonesthrow discog. It just won’t be up with Champion Sound, Charizma & PB Wolf’s Big Shots, Madvillainy or the UNQ albums; it’ll fit nicely with MED, Roc C, and Wildchild.

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.