Saturday, September 12, 2009

Top Chef

Pack Your Knives and Flow

So I feel like the conversation centering around Rae and the sequel is quickly burning itself out, and honestly after seeing him at S.O.B.'s Thursday night, the childlike joy he's getting from being relevant again, the love New York is showering him with, it makes me sad to be in the camp that's not head over heels in love with this album. Rae is obviously one of my favorite rappers of all time and no one is happier about the commercial success of this more or less good effort that obviously cost him large quantities of blood, sweat and tears. But.

Last night a friend and I were drunkenly discussing the album and I hit on a pretty interesting experiment. I started flipping back and forth between the two Cuban Linx albums on my iPod and it yielded some results that suggest a thought that previously hadn't occurred to me. A lot of the gripes concerning the album have to do with its intentional, single minded retro feel, more or less questions of philosophy. Last night suggested that for me it may just come down to the physical rapping. Now obviously in the course of 15 years flows are going to alter, mature, go off in different directions, etc. But to what effect?

Ghost for instance took his to a bizarre, experimental territory. He sings badly, accentuates everything and emotes heavily on nearly every bar. Rae seems to have withdrawn somewhat. His flow has become almost entirely devoid of personality or flourish of any kind, and not in that awesome, dead eyed, disaffected, menacing way that Pusha T and Young Buck (Once upon a time) are so great at. At his recent best on 8 Diagrams and most notably here on "New Wu" he achieves a confident leer with his cold, soberly spit threats and descrips. But for most of OB4CL 2 Rae sounds nearly listless, one comment I came across suggested he sounds like he's reading his rhymes and at times that's dead on. On "Pyrex Vision" it's intentionally softer but even then it provokes a particular disengagement, it's unexciting for the listener. Lyrically he's consistent but the energy is always lacking and at times he sounds like he's barely there. Contrasted with the angry, aggro young man Raekwon was in his early 20s it's particularly glaring. But don't take my word for it.

Baggin Crack

Surgical Gloves

Knuckleheadz - Raekwon, Ghostface & U-God

Fat Lady Sings


tray said...

It almost always comes down to the physical (or actual) rapping. It's very hard to make a bad album, I feel, if you're really rapping well, and very tough to make a good one if you're not. All the philosophical shit is going to do, at most, is make the difference between a very good album and a classic (or a good album and a very good album, etc.). At least, that's how I feel. Anyway, Rae is definitely a bit stony and dull on this. Then again, it's nowhere near as bad as GZA on that Grandmasters album. That was just pure robotics. At any rate, rare is the rapper whose skills or verve don't substantially diminish over a 14-year span. I feel we got about as good an album as we could reasonably expect.

Abe Beame said...

I totally disagree with good rapping equaling good rap. (See: Detroit, the city of) At this point any MC so and so can flow, the question is what else do you bring to the table? The idea here was a lot of criticism that exists concerning this album focuses on approach and seemingly ignores more technical aspects.

tray said...

Well, for example, T.I., theoretically, can rap really well when he wants, but isn't the problem with his last two albums that he frequently is on autopilot and doesn't do a whole lot of technically great and/or deeply felt rapping? I agree that most of the criticism of this album's shortcomings has tended to be more abstract; indeed, my complaint about a lot of rap criticism these days is that people look for really abstruse reasons to bash a rapper - Jay for instance - when the reality is that new Jay is mostly not so great strictly because he's not such a good rapper anymore. I see these reviews that say, "oh yes, Jay [or Cam] is still so technically proficient, I just don't like what he's talking about." A, he's not technically proficient at all for the most part anymore (same goes for Cam), B, when has the stuff that Jay had to say ever been particularly interesting? It was always the execution.

elmattic said...

Have to agree on your (excellent) post. Rae has been sitting on his ass mostly all these years, and not exactly spending the time writing the greatest rhymes of all time or developing some kind of stunning Wu-exegesis. Rapping is like anything else, you need to stay in practice to be good at it.