"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

eMC - The Show: Review


I get called out of touch or hopelessly true school or even just plain “old” (which is ironic because I’m only twenty-four and I can still somewhat believably pass for a teenager. I look young. I don’t even need to shave regularly!) for my musical tastes that I fervently express. By my own admission, I’m a rampant hater and I have no qualms shitting on music I feel is sub par. I have anti-pop tastes. I was always into Nas more than Jay-Z. Wu-Tang more than Cash Money. Sick, screeching drowning cats more than Young Jeezy. I get extremely frustrated when music like say Soulja Boy that I consider to be base garbage gets endlessly played on my radio and my television (and then proceeds to get excused by pandering pop critics) while worthier artists gets endlessly pushed back, ignored and marginalized by the media and the record industry. It’s unconscionable to me that artists like say Lupe Fiasco or Little Brother get shit on when they have the balls to say anything remotely of substance (even when it’s flawed or hypocritical) when artists who deal in nothing but in the worst cliches and stereotypes get celebrated. Perhaps, I am old. Whatever. I don’t care. If the world wants to keep it’s head in the sand then so be it...But then Masta Ace drops another album and all is right with the world, again. For awhile, at least...

Masta Ace is one of my top five, dead or alive, hand-in-your-ballots, favorite rappers of all-time. Masta Ace who made his debut on the classic posse cut “The Symphony” twenty years ago should be a relic these days. In his Juice Crew glory days, he was always a talented but second string weed carrier who was always out-shined by the Daddy Kanes, the Rakims, the G. Raps, and the KRS-Ones of his era but unlike his peers, Ace has managed to re-invent himself as the Grand Poet Laureate of underground hip hop in this decade. This has kept Ace relevant. Very relevant. His last two albums, 2001’s Disposable Arts and 2004’s A Long Hot Summer, are not only Ace’s crowning achievements but some of the best underground hip hop records ever record.

Ace is back. This time with the underground super group, eMC. eMC consists of Masta Ace, Lyrical Lounge legends Punchline and Wordsworth, and Milwaukee underground veteran, Stricklin. Their new record, The Show, is underground hip hop at its finest and a virtual deadlock for one of the top five hip hop records of the year. The Show is a stylistic successor to Ace’s previous two concept albums as it follows the loose story of the group preparing for the night’s out-of-town performance. We follow the group as they frantically call their manager to pick them up at the airport to their check in at the hotel, to their radio appearances promoting the show, to backstage fucking groupies and finally their curtain call. The record is held together by a series of humorous skits that link the thematic elements of the story with the songs that expound on these themes.

All of the rappers in the group are extremely talented lyricists and storytellers and use the twenty plus tracks of the album to flex their ample lyrical muscle. Wordsworth is pound for pound one of the best lyricists working today. He employs a nimble flow and his rhyme patterns use deep, intricate wordplay. Stricklin has one of the fiercest deliveries in rap as every one of his lines is delivered with fervor and energy. Masta Ace is, of course, Masta Ace which means he’s just as warm, witty and complex as ever. Punchline is this group’s Big Pooh as he always seems to be just there on the track. Good for a strong punchline here and there but he isn’t nearly as special as the other three rappers in the group.

The production of the album like Disposable Arts and A Long Hot Summer is handled mostly by underground veterans like Ninth Wonder, Nicolay, Marco Polo and Ayatollah. This provides the album with it’s signature dependable true school sound that has been a staple of the collective’s records since 2001. Ayatollah really shines on this record with the dark and brooding “Grudge”, the album’s best song, that features a menacing guitar line, heavy bass drums, and ominous strings. The song is a meditation on the group’s various grudges they have with people over their lives from Ace’s beef with the childhood neighborhood bully he still sees around town to this day to Punch’s heartbreak over a cheating high school girlfriend. However, all of the rappers shine on this song but it’s Strick and Words that really stand out on the track. Strick’s verse deals with his violent impulses he has towards the group of kids that stole his bike as a kid and his verse is full of rage and passion that speaks towards the psychic trauma kids go through when they lose something dear to them at a young age. Words’ verse is in contrast and truly heartbreaking as he details his grudge with a loser, manipulative Uncle who steals Words property as a kid to pay for his gambling and weed addictions as he literally begs his mother to kick this manipulative loser out of the house.

There are a lot of great songs on the album that deal with a variety of subject matter that everyday people can relate to. “Don’t Give Up On Us” deals with the pressures of failing relationships. On “Winds Of Change”, the group deals with nostalgia of past eras without sounding bitter towards the present and “U Let Me Grow” is a heartfelt tribute to the groups’s deceased mothers. Not that the album is not without a couple of classic bangers as well, Little Brother assisted “Traffic” is the successor to Ace’s classic “Born To Roll” as it deals with what else, a fly ass car and the lead single, “What It Stand For” is underground posse cut rap at it’s punchliney finest. If the album has a flaw though, it does feel trapped in underground hip hop circa 2005-2006 as the production tends to be derivate of that time period and some of the punchlines fall flat because they sound dated because they were probably recorded during that time period. Still the record is damn near classic even with those flaws.

Masta Ace has built himself quite the legacy and The Show is another worthy addition to his already impressive catalogue. It’s quite thrilling to know that Ace has continued to improve with age and keep himself relevant in the rap game even while it crumbles around him. The chemistry on this album between the rappers are astounding and it really just works. If Ace continues pump out records like this in his 50’s and 60’s then I’m gonna keep on listening. Jay-Z take note. This is how you age with grace.

21 comments:

Trey Stone said...

"It’s unconscionable to me that artists like say Lupe Fiasco or Little Brother get shit on when they have the balls to say anything remotely of substance (even when it’s flawed or hypocritical) when artists who deal in nothing but in the worst cliches and stereotypes get celebrated."

well, i mean...what if a rapper who falls into the second category is making better music?

just sayin'. i think with some of these conscious rap guys, a lot of people seem to have a real low bar just because they're trying (successfully or not) to be "meaningful." if their shit's wack, it's wack.

i'll check some of this though. not familiar with Ace although my old roommate used to play some of his stuff.

DocZeus said...

Trey-

"well, i mean...what if a rapper who falls into the second category is making better music?"

Well, true. I suppose it really depends on who you are talking about. I don't care much for Mos or Talib. I mean I'm a big supporter of Lupe and LB so that's who I framed my argument about but I don't think even the most stringent of Lupe haters would possibly argue "Laffy Taffy >>> Lupe" or something to that effect.

Trey Stone said...

yeah, i didn't figure you were making a blanket "deep" lyrics automatically = great music argument. just noticed that you seem to put a heavy emphasis on lyrics when arguing certain rappers're better than others. maybe i'm hard on some of these guys but i tend to have real particular standards for what types of that kinda lyricism "works" and which doesn't.

the one issue i've increasingly had with mainstream rap is the irresponsibility issue -- i sometimes feel a little uncomfortable with some of the rap i like because i think the argument that certain people're being negatively influenced by it is legit to an extent. as far as overall production and musical quality though, if more conscious rap types were able to get as dope beats as certain mainstream rappers get, i think we'd see more of a consensus.

not saying "Laffy Taffy" is an example of a dope mainstream beat. for the record.

DocZeus said...

To some extent, I think a rapper who is more "lyrical" tends to be better than rapper who isn't as lyrical but that isn't always true. Doug E. Fresh is one of the greatest emcees of all-time and he isn't nearly as lyrical as somebody like Mos Def, a rapper that Doug Fresh is definitely better than.

However, in the case of a lot artists I like, I enjoy their music as a whole even their beats and production over to a lot of stuff that is more mainstream. I'd much rather listen to Blu & Exile than say Plies. I think there seems to a somewhat of a disconnect between "conscious" rap fans (although I wouldn't consider myself a "conscious" rap fan. I just like music that doesn't suck.) and more "mainstream" fans is that both set of fans enjoy their favorite artists music for the complete package the artist presents. I like the beats and lyrics of my favorite artists (even Nas' beats) while I can't really stand like D4L because not only do I think they are wack emcees but I think their production is mindlessly simple.

Trey Stone said...

i mean, i was thinking more along the lines of dudes like Jay, Kanye and T.I. when i said that, but you're right about a bunch of mainstream rappers being good for nothing outside of a couple singles (and with Plies, not even that.) however, i definitely think there's a select A-list of mainstream producers who're popular because they're good and who generally stomp all over most everyone else.

i just think it's kinda counterproductive how a bunch of these alternative rappers in my experience seem to put themselves in a box where they have to have a certain traditional "sound," which with some exceptions can tend to be boring and/or dated, and then people wonder why they're not getting the shine that popular rappers with fresher, better beats are. there's nothing wrong with on-point experimentation, or copping legitimately dope production styles from the mainstream. part of why Kanye gets so much props from me is and why i kinda roll my eyes at any "overrated" talk is cuz of how well he's been able to push and reinvent his sound, while staying completely true to himself. think more of these types of rappers could take a page out of his book.

sorry, i try to condense my comments but they just always tend to go on and on, hah

DocZeus said...

Kanye is kind of the exception to the rule in my opinion. He's an "alternative" rapper that managed to become the biggest rapper in the world because of his "pop" tendencies. I have no qualms with Kanye. I only would classify Kanye as overrated in the sense that he thinks he's a more "smarter" rapper than he actually is when a lot of his punchlines and metaphors just fall embarrassingly flat. I wouldn't qualify Kanye as a "great" emcee although he does make great music. He's kind of like a New Age Dr. Dre in sense that Dre couldn't really rap for shit but "The Chronic" is ridiculously dope.

As for artists like Jay or T.I. those guys are legitimately great emcees in their own right and I'm generally not referring to them as the rappers when I mention the "mainstream." I more referring to those artists who make one giant record and then promptly fall the fuck off like say Mike Jones or D4L or Mims.

Renato Pagnani said...

You can’t call T.I. a “legitimately great” rapper if you deny Kanye the same status. You just can’t.

DocZeus said...

"You can’t call T.I. a “legitimately great” rapper if you deny Kanye the same status. You just can’t."

Well perhaps for T.I. "great' is too strong for of a word since he's not "great" in the sense of the grand sense of accomplishments and things.
C'mon, now. Kanye makes better music than T.I. but T.I. can rap circles around Kanye. This is not up for debate. I mean Kanye might end up being a top ten hip hop "artist" when all things are said and done but as an "emcee" he's got light years to go.

Renato Pagnani said...

I don’t know. I think brings up the discussion of what constitutes a great “rapper” in the first place.

But I need to read this damn feminist literature and summarize it for one of my classes tomorrow, so I don’t have the time to get into this debate (one I’ve always been fascinated with), but we’ll get into this at another time.

Keep up the good work, man.

And Kanye can rap circles around T.I., buhlee it.

DocZeus said...

"And Kanye can rap circles around T.I., buhlee it."

Quit hatin' the South!

Trey Stone said...

OK, well if all you were referring to was one-hit wonder types, i got no argument.

other than the fact that "Still Tippin'" is still my shit. why can't they make a whole Southern rap album that sounds like that? preferably not by Mike Jones

DocZeus said...

"other than the fact that "Still Tippin'" is still my shit. why can't they make a whole Southern rap album that sounds like that? preferably not by Mike Jones"

"Still Tippin'" is my shit too. I think we can all agree that Slim Thug and Paul Wall and the producer are responsible are the reason why that song is awesome.

DocZeus said...

Ok, maybe not Paul Wall.

Trey Stone said...

hah, i actually think Paul Wall's flow over that beat sounds pretty dope. even if he makes quite possibly the worst simile choices of any rapper, ever.

i'm probably similar to an ant, cuz i'm low to the earth!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DocZeus said...

Anonymous-

It takes a real big man slandering somebody with that name anonymously over the internet. I hope you feel better about yourself. I mean the Next President of the United States is gonna be a black man and you're still gonna be a racist asshole.

-B.J. "The Good Doctor Zeus" Steiner

Zilla Rocca said...

Kanye in '04 could've rapped circle around T.I....if he would've let Consequence and Rhymefest continue to write his rhymes. But T.I. on mixtapes and album cuts is a BEAST!!

I think "Graduation" is Kanye's most cohesive and most focused effort to date and lyrically one of the worst albums I've ever listened to front to back.

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Trey Stone said...

i dunno, i think a lot of heads seem to have a kind of arbitrary definition of what determines "lyrical..." Kanye may not be going in-depth on anything, but to me, his rhymes on Graduation have a lot more feeling in them than his conscious rap buds who tend to get labelled as some kind of lyrical gods.

'Ye knows how to match a particular emotion or vibe to a beat in a way i think a lot of other rappers just don't.

Trey Stone said...

not saying you were referring to said conscious rap buds zilla. just saying.

sorry i have pathological comment syndrome i'll stop

Anonymous said...

that was a awesome rant I feel the same way hey but Iam 27 right on btother