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.