The first thing you should notice about the new Chicago rap compilation “My Block” is that it’s presented by MTV2. As in, the initially almost not-so-evil less flashy brood to the definitely evil media conglomerate MTV (and Viacom); inevitably, like its parent channel, MTV2 went from exclusively playing music videos (and good ones too) to adapting a largely reality-TV based line-up, one largely devoid of any actual, you know, music. How does that effect this project? In the fourth installment of the series (previous incarnations have included capturing the Hyphy, Reggaeton and Houston sound), the pandering to each niche of music lover is palpable. In other words, this isn’t an album compiled by an artistic director bent on capturing the true spirit of Chicago Hip Hop at this moment, but rather a group of suits who have all the demographic data in front of them. The results, then, are scattered to say the least. Perhaps both the best and worst quality of the album is that if you like rap of any kind you are almost guaranteed to find at least two or three joints on here that you really dig; the problem is, unless you’re like me and can get down with every conceivable sub genre of rap, you’re also all but assured to find at least four automatic skip tracks. And expectantly, a project obviously built in the boardroom is high on star power (and the inherent quality that usually entails), but low on cohesion and vibe.
So what does all that data translate to exactly? Predictably, there’s three joints by relatively new but already established (read: fresh but safe) artists (Lupe and Rhymefest); five joints by the established veterans of the scene (Common and Twista); three joints by a relatively unknown local MC about to blow (Gemini); and finally it’s padded out with middling gangsta unknowns and a few curious oldies (including Crucial Conflict’s seminal “Hay,” which I was both pleasantly surprised and baffled by, as it was my unofficial 7th grade anthem but sticks out severely owing to its age amongst all these newer tracks). Unfortunately, none of the selections are particularly exclusive, and some are downright disappointing. While the addition of Lupe and Rhymefest is always welcome, all of their selections can be found on their official debuts (and it would make more sense to cop both those joints before you check this one); similarly, the one Common track they choose is the pleasant but largely unessential “Go!” (but why not the fellow “Be” banger “Chi-City”!?!). Speaking of “Be,” the elephant in the room here is that Kanye only pokes his head out of the jambalaya twice: once to produce the aforementioned Common love fest, and then for the absolutely nonessential Twista collabo “Overnight Celebrity.” Obviously his price tag was a little too steep for those suits at corporate to sign off on. Twista shows up four times, but all of his joints are already too well-known to be a discover to anyone but the most green of fans. And the filler, as mentioned above, tends to shift toward tired gangsta cliche and the occasional hometown pride. On the plus side, Gemini (who I had previously never checked) comes through with sharp, finely-crafted lyrics (even if they tend to stick to conventional topics such as cars and guns).
In sum: if you need a little ear candy, and you see this piece in the bargain bin at your local music store, think about copping it. Or better yet, lift it from a big boxstore, where it’s assured to be prominently displayed for a month or so (I don’t mean to advocate a life of crime, but something about supporting Viacom just rubs me wrong, dig?). But if you’re serious about understanding this Chicago thing, go and cop the individual artists (Rhymefest, Lupe and Common’s especially) – you’ll be better off for it.