Being at the top of the rap game sure isn’t easy. You have to follow up that hit single with a hit album, that hit album with a nationwide tour, and then you have to start working on your next album, keeping your fingers crossed that when you come back your spot won’t be taken up by the next big thing. Securing endorsement deals. Showing love to mixtape DJ’s, radio personalities, TV hosts, magazine writers. And don’t forget the fans. Shaking hands. Taking pictures. Giving autographs. Everybody wanting something from you just because you’re famous. Everybody thinking they know you just because they see your face all the time. So many people making money off you. All these guests on your album, half of which you’ve never met before. Hoping the beats you picked really are fire. That the samples will clear. That the video director to go to will be available. Investing advances. Recouping damages. Knowing your people bank on your success. Not going platinum means you’re a failure. Going platinum means you won’t see your family for months. The streets is watching. You should too. Watch your back, that is. The industry’s full of backstabbers. Protect your wealth. Protect yourself. Sometimes a bodyguard ain’t enough. Stalkers sneaking past security. Think ahead and tape these groupies for court evidence. Prepare to be hit with lawsuits left and right. It’s only a matter of time before another rapper starts some beef. Have a taste in cars. In liquor. In women. Form a celebrity couple with an actress or singer. Start your own imprint. Put your crew on. Always have a hot verse ready when it’s time to do a remix. Be ready to counter Bill O’Reilly’s aggressive rhetoric. And all the while – look cool.
Sometimes you have to wonder where the fun is in all of this. Is it a coincidence that industry veterans often refer to their profession as “simply a job,” that rookies see it as “just another hustle”? Being at the bottom of the rap game, on the other hand, doesn’t seem quite so strenuous. It allows you to take some artistic liberties. Your poetic license is only restricted by your own imagination and talent. You are in possession of the famed carte blanche. As Digital Underground once put it in one of rap music’s brightest moments: Doowutchyalike! Nobody would probably admit to being a rap game bottom feeder, but 2002’s “Power Is Mindful Peace” was a strong indication that New Brunswick’s Pimp Tea was just that – the guy who is so far behind everybody else that he has stopped playing catch-up a long time ago.
Now he’s back, and quite possibly better than ever. One could argue that the only way for Pimp Tea was up, but if you think about it, to actually improve on something hopelessly bad is in fact a respectable achievement. His biggest advantage may be that Pimp Tea, despite putting on of course an act, doesn’t really have to meet any expectations. He doesn’t have to dramatize his lifestory. He doesn’t have to live up to any of the stereotypes we typically associate with rappers. He’s doesn’t even have to strive for lyrical mastership. Don’t let the name fool you either, he’s far from being a pimp or trying to be one. Pimp Tea has simply fun making music. Yet as we all know, someone having fun doesn’t necessarily make him entertaining, and every comedian is aware of the thin line between the audience laughing with you and the audience laughing at you. Being funny is hard work. Being a joke is quite easy.
Strictly going by this album, this time Pimp Tea is charming and above all distinct enough for the listener to get the joke. And the joke is not Pimp Tea, it’s rap music taking itself much too serious. You don’t need “An Urbal Remedy” to realize that, and it’s certainly not a message being explicitly conveyed on this album. On the contrary, Tea seems to take the industry aspect of his trade surprisingly serious. In “Music Biz” he relates how Dick Asher and CBS attempted to break Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” on Top 40 radio without paying powerbrokers. He goes on to dedicate the song to industry maverick Clive Davis before he finally gets to the point. Which is that rap music doesn’t seem to get its due respect at Canada’s East Coast Music Awards, as he concludes: “In the last 3 years 11 rap artists were nominated in the [Urban Recording of the Year] category. Out of those 11, none have won.” Upon further investigation, it turns out that Pimp’s debut was one of five nominees, losing to Buck 65’s “Square”. While it’s indeed debatable whether Buck 65 qualifies as a ‘rap’ or ‘urban’ artist, I’m bewildered that both these albums were nominated in the first place and more traditional records like Classified’s “Trial & Error” or Johnny Hardcore’s self-titled debut went unnoticed…
But back to the subject at hand. Now we see some progress is what I thought when I initially went through this sophomore effort. Both raps and tracks have experienced a quantum leap in terms of quality. Dude definitely pimped his ride. “Super Dude (Jorun Remix)” is a well arranged superhero theme of a different kind, exuding a naive ’50s charm that is reflected by the simple lyrics:
“Cause life is just one great big party
Don’t waste time, enjoy your body
Have fun and dance with somebody
Come on everybody, party”
“Shake Ya Caboose” offers more of the same, as Pimp Tea gets his groove on: “Shake it around making y’all giggle as I wiggle around in my pants / Haha – even making the guys take a second glace.” It may make Nelly and Diddy’s “Shake Ya Tailfeather” look like a hip-hop masterpiece, but ultimately we’re dealing with the same category of song here, an invitation to dance, simple and plain. Moving on, we have the _Fresh Prince of Bel-Air_ stylings of “Hick Hop,” a song about depression (“Sometimes”), one about the music business (“Music Biz”), and a love song (“Maniac For Your Love”). To be clear, most of these compositions don’t work if you approach them from an educated standpoint. Most of us, when we deal with a certain category of song, have a preconceived notion of the depth of the content, the sincerity of the emotions, the quality of the performance we hope to hear. Most of the times, you won’t get that from Pimp Tea. He is, for lack of a better term, a buffoon. But that doesn’t mean that a Pimp Tea song about depression won’t work – as long as you’re aware that it’s a Pimp Tea song about depression. And low and behold, despite Tea being his old clumsy self, “Sometimes” succeeds at shedding light on depression, whether he explores his emotions or tries to explain the disease from a rational point of view.
All this to the astonishing effect that at the end of the day you have to give Pimp Tea props for keeping it in many ways realer than his peers. As if to prove his realness, he even has a song called “This Is Me” to show how regular a guy he really is. “I was a geek, not a dork,” he insists. Considering it comes across like a goddamn JOB INTERVIEW, it’s nice to see him work his hobby hip-hop in there:
“I’m not one to claim to be the illest MC
cause my bragging rights is a 4.2 GPA
For the last 7 years I’ve been writing for the Brunswickan
treating indie rap artists like my next of kin
3 years I been on with HipHopCanada.com
In those 3 years, 2 UMAC awards have been won
Got accepted to UNB, sponsored financially
by a scholarship – N. Myles Brown, I’m thanking thee
5 years and I was done with my bachelor’s degree
Put in an application for an NSERC scholarship
My work and dedication paid off – they accepted it
So now I’m 2 years deep working on my master’s
My thesis is my nemesis, if not for hip-hop I’d finish faster
I admit it straight up, I’m not good at freestyling
Do I practice much? No time, son, work’s compiling
I gotta act confident when I’m really not
You see, in hip-hop, attitude means a lot”
The main problem with this and with Pimp Tea in general is that confidence and skill usually go hand in hand. Skill boosts confidence, and vice versa. Pimp Tea has neither, at least not to the degree that is expected from a credible rap act. His naive shtick may be refreshing, but when you decide to rap and the term ‘executive decision’ sounds like “sec-cision” in your mumbling mouth, your Grade Point Average truly don’t mean jack. This is the kind of thing that gets me so worked up that my irony detector stopped working: “I don’t choose to write my rhymes surreptitiously / nor do I choose to recite my rhymes slurring viciously / and I don’t take myself too seriously – Seriously? Seriously!” Erm… seriously? Cause I’m not so sure all of a sudden.
Well, one thing’s for sure – I guarantee you that you haven’t heard anything like this. In the end, that’s the lasting impression well-meaning people should walk away with from this album. It’s Pimp Tea’s one of a kind avuncular manner that is his saving grace. You can’t help but like the guy, at least a little bit. Having a radio edit for the – safe for its title – completely clean “P. Titty” is just cute. But nothing can top the gesture of “Can I Get a CS,” a song dedicated to his Computer Science faculty:
“Can I Get a CS
for all of my hackers and faculty members
in this building
known as Gillin
Can I get a woo woo
for the few brave ladies who chose to
cause you we do bless”
One award is already waiting for Pimp Tea: Mister Congeniality.