Monday, February 19, 2007

Revisiting Beats Rhymes and Life (and the idea that Dilla killed Tribe)

On the message board that I frequent designed for music discussion, there’s the notion that Jay Dee’s influence was responsible for the supposed downturn of A Tribe Called Quest’s musical quality on their fourth album. People used to blame Consequence but now they’ve comfortably settled for placing the blame on Dilla’s shoulders while fans such as myself get accused of trying to reinvent history by saying this is a great album. How could the man largely considered the greatest to ever step behind the boards join one of our favorite groups and do damage to their credibility? Answer: His presence killed the Tribe that we knew, but they were still a Tribe we could love. Here I will hypothesize on why people didn’t like this album, none of which could be blamed on the late James Yancey (for the record I loved it a decade ago and still do).

For starters, nothing they put out following the album that Lupe Fiasco is still probably sleeping on could have blown us away. After going to the past (The Low End Theory) and the future (Midnight Marauders), the Back To The Future trilogy had to go to the wild west to close things out, but the last one was still an entertaining movie. I see this album as their attempt at staying relevant, being that Hip-Hop had gone through huge changes in the nearly three years since Marauders came out (Peep the cover above, displaying how things were in disarray but they were carrying the flag for the culture. Pac died two months after this album's release, followed by Big six months later). By the same token nothing on this album sounded like something they wouldn’t ordinarily do, unlike the terribly awkward Nore collab on The Love Movement. They left their jazz influences behind and went straight boom-bap; with Dilla producing five songs on here, and his (at the time) unorthodox Detroit rap style not featured it’s hard to say he had any negative influence on the group.

I’ll now do a brief rundown of the songs and give my overall rating as of today (mind you I may be a bit biased as a full fledged Tribe junkie). Songs denoted with * were produced by Dilla.

1) Phony Rappers – The dark piano with a strange melody, the drum knocks, typical fanfare about emceeing. - @@@@ ¼

2) Get A Hold* - This is all-time fresh. The vocal sample, the faint bassline. @@@@ ½

3) Motivators – This joint was just fun and it was definitely hitting. In retrospect Consequence sounds young as hell, but I was always a fan of what he did on this album. @@@@ ½ (yeah that rating might be a bit of a stretch, but f*ck it)

4) Jam – I thought Dilla did this but the internet’s production credits say otherwise. If I could give this @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@ I would.

5) Crew – Heat, listen to this beat and tell me it isn’t serious. @@@@@

6) The Pressure – This song was a standard cool joint, not bad at all but not outstanding - @@@@

7) 1nce Again* - I never knew Dilla did this, but this was a great lead-off single with a fun video attached - @@@@ 1/2

8) Mind Power – This was a sleeper, it was hitting. @@@@ 1/2

9) The Hop – Another heater - @@@@ ¼ (really a @@@@ ½, but corny lines dropped it down a notch)

10) Keep It Moving* - @@@@@ Point blank

11) Baby Phife’s Return – This joint knocked too @@@@ ¼

12) Separate Together – Tip’s flow was crazy as was the beat @@@@ 1/2

13) What Really Goes On – I never liked this song. @@@

14) Word Play* – This makes up for “What Really Goes On” and then some, one of the greatest songs in their catalogue @@@@@

15) Stressed Out* – This was a definite heater, strong message. Plus who else is creative enough to interpolate Anita Baker’s “Good Love”? @@@@ 1/2

Closing Note: You can definitely hear the influence of the music that would be heard on Fantastic Vol. 2, but this album banged overall if you just went in as a Tribe fan and didn’t expect them to recreate the wheel. Overall, I’ll rate it an impartial @@@@ ¼

Revisit this album if you need to, Dilla was a highlight if nothing else.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Sean Price - Jesus Price Supastar

@@@@ ¼ (better than @@@@ but not quite @@@@ ½ )

The mid-90’s golden age of Hip-Hop is long past us, with only select acts like The Roots, Common, and Nas able to maintain commercial and critical relevance over a decade after their introductions. As the culture took a more commercial turn, the once esteemed Boot Camp Clik was one of many that were counted out for until Heltah Skeltah’s Sean Price rose like a phoenix from the ashes with 2005’s Monkey Barz. With this album he carried the crew on his shoulders, no different from how Ghostface kept the Wu-Tang brand from disintegrating altogether. Once considered the weak half of his group with fans deferring to Rock’s gritty voice, Ruck has proven he can hold his own and then some. Layman proclamations (such as being “the brokest rapper you know”), and standoffish boasts regarding his MC caliber, splashed with the mix of a class clown/hooligan from Brownsville character has made for reality rap at its finest. Jesus Price Supastar is Sean Price’s long awaited sophomore effort, promising an even greater abundance of the ignorance that diehard followers have come to revere.

The bulk of the album’s production is handled by Justus League chieftains 9th Wonder and Khrysis, along with their affiliate 10 for the Triad. From the heavenly “Violence” to the raucous “Hearing Aid”, the aptly titled monstrosity of “King Kong” and the soulful “Let It Be Known” (featuring a stellar guest appearance by Little Brother’s Phonte), North Carolina and Brooklyn combine forces to do great damage. Sean Price takes a relentless approach with his spitting as he maintains an indistinguishable air of authenticity, incorporating 5 Percenter speak along with his thug bravado. He takes pride in not only his lyrical skill, but in seeing just how comically ignorant he can be whilst dismantling competition in his path. When Sean makes the exclamation “I worked so hard to be this stupid”, and comes with lines like “Kneel down kiss the ring/R Kelly your verse when I piss on your 16” and “Dutch in my ear, OE in my palm/I’ll Freddy Krueger your face, Michael Meyer your moms” you have to believe that he means business.

Stumbling moments are few and far in between such as “Church” produced by Tommy Tee which sounds like a Dr. Dre throwaway, all the way down to the Funkadelic inspired hook. The album's major flaw is a technicality, as Sean Price’s topic material is extremely limited resulting in songs that aren’t about much. The only deviation from battle rapping, pistol clapping and drug dealing/usage is the album’s closer “Mess You Made”, breaking down an introspective synopsis of his career and failure to attain mainstream success. The lack of diversity in his raps is more than made up for with well structured conceptual verses, crazy multi-syllabic lines and strong choruses displaying how his partner in crime Rock earned the nickname Captain Hook.

Jesus Price Supastar is a return to form as Sean Price sticks to his guns (no pun intended), doing what he does best. He never disappoints his core audience, those who live for the uncut unpredictability and humorous barbarism which he’s developed a knack for. The BCC legacy will continue to live on that much longer thanks to the God.