I don’t go to the club very much, I don’t base my self-worth on the wheels of my car or how readily I can shoot other people, and I don’t pride myself on how well I can degrade the female gender. I don’t accept the simplified rhyme schemes and sparse lyricism whose sole purpose is to provide a background for a grinding bass line. So, in an opposite universe, I really liked Mic&Rep’s “Last of the Best.”

Mic and Rep are two aspiring MCs hailing from Durham, North Carolina, the affectionately dubbed “Bull City.” The duo’s stock has been rising with continual rotation on local college and commercial radio stations, despite, judging by the CD cover, being maybe eighteen years old. They’ve found their way into The Source as well as Down Magazine. Most importantly, Mic&Rep landed a track on the Welcome2Durham DVD, which also features Little Brother and Big Daddy Kane. And yet with all these accolades, I found it very difficult to get into their music.

Call this my diatribe against mainstream music, or what I call the “hijacking of hip hop,” I don’t care. This album presents an excellent opportunity for me to explain why I refuse to listen to the mind-numbing drivel prevalent on the radio, in the club, and on the Hot 100 charts. Namely, that chart-topping artists not only publicize and thereby dilute a way of life, but also act as inspiration for the recreation and the imitation of that musical style by up-and-coming artists, here exemplified by “Mic&Rep.” Remember Chamillionaire, Mystikal, or Nelly? Well now we have Chingy, Mims, and Mike Jones to refresh your memory. And after those three? Whatever artist is still attempting to cash in on that repetitive, gangster-thug club theme.

I’ve said enough, it’s time to dig into the content of this album.

After specifically honoring legends 2Pac, Biggie Smalls, Big Daddy Kane, and Jay-Z, Mic&Rep pay homage to a more diverse array of personal inspirations on “Music.” Some are obvious, others are less so, but deciphering the lyrical references behind this track gives any head a good mental workout:

“Bigger and Deffer, and naw I ain’t lyin
Gettin C.R.E.A.M. for my Wu-Tang, I’m Gettin Rich or Die Tryin
These are the breaks like Kurtis, so I’m tryin to Blow
Bump from my Speakerboxxx, feel the Love Below
Smooth like CL, but Rock like Pete
2Pacalypse Now while they RZArrerctin me
I Flip the Modus, started Bustin the Rhymes
We the last of the best and the greatest of all time”

Unfortunately, with all the incredible artists cited throughout the song and the proclamation that they are the “last of the best,” Mic&Rep set the bar too high for them to reach in the rest of the album.

Despite a moving portrayal of ghetto life on “Where I’m From” (“You gon’ see red or blue whether you bang or not/Runnin with the crips or bloods or you runnin from cops”), the album quickly degenerates into a pseudo-thug attempt to score club hits. “Shake Dat” shows Mic&Rep rhyming over a simple, Neptunes-inspired heaviness:

“Keep me warm while the speakers is bumpin
Go ahead girl get down on the floor and show me somethin
Nah I ain’t a typical wise guy
but I still make a body drop like I did a drive-by
So girl stay down, ain’t no need to get up
She still get down like she in a stick up
Get up on the dance floor, then go an drop down
Show me how you shake that, drop, don’t stop now”

Wow. Mind-bending intellectualism. At this point, the listening experience becomes physically painful.

The awesomeness continues with “Our Style” (“When Rep in the place they say ‘Oh!’/Look, I’m a show you how I do jack/I stay snipin, but nah, I ain’t a new jack/I’m the one that put the steel in the house/You wanna talk, I’m a have to put this steel in your mouth”).

I wish I could print all the lyrics for “Ridin Slow,” but for brevity’s sake, I’ll just show you these gems:

“We ride slow like there’s weight in the back man
Other haters eatin my dust like it’s packed man
Stuntin in my beamer, but you know I ain’t actin
Topless coupe, like I took off my hat man
Ridin through the streets, yeah I’m cruisin in my ride
The doors suicide, so I ride till I die
I ride dirty like Chamillionaire
But I feel so clean like a millionaire
The chicks gotta gas cause they can’t be me
I stop and hit the gas and bounce like a trampoline
I’m a start it kid, see me bumpin in the cut it’s for nothin
Cause I ride slow like retarded kids”

So, let me get this straight. “Ridin slow” is supposedly desirable, but retarded kids also ride slow? I’m confused. Did Mic&Rep just equate themselves with retarded kids?

By now, I’m reminded of the Wordsworth quote, “Your album should be burnt to a CD-Rewritable.” I’d keep going, but honestly, I think you get the point.

Maybe I’ve just been listening to too much Krs-One, Dead Prez, Paris, or Immortal Technique, artists who highlight the difference between merely complaining about the vagaries of ghetto life and actually describing the underlying causal mechanisms that propel them. Or maybe I’ve been listening to too much Macklemore, P.O.S., Saul Williams, or Qwel, artists who provide weighty lyricism I can relate to. Either way, all of the above-mentioned artists bring a much more enjoyable listening experience.

And before you come with that “you’re a racist, you’re hating on black culture” argument, I’m going to preempt you by saying that although ghetto life may be a historically integral part of black culture, its commercialization not only reinforces stereotypes but also perpetuates its impoverishment as well as its exclusion from the rest of society. I dislike the music of Paul Wall and Bubba Sparxxx equally as much. And if I’m going to listen to a seriously moving and informative portrayal of ghetto life, I’d rather blast Reef the Lost Cauze, Mykill Miers, Mobb Deep, Gang Starr, Wordsworth or even Saigon.

I don’t want to come off as a complete asshole here. I’m sure Mic&Rep are two really good guys, and I want to thank them for having the courage to create music and put their words out there for public scrutiny instead of criticizing everyone else’s. As young as they are, I can’t really blame them for trying to travel the proven road to success. The fault, then, is not theirs; and my anger should be understood as directed at the general character of mainstream rap. But aside from the visible 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, and Missy Elliott ripoffs, their watered-down amalgamation of crunk (is that possible?), club, and gangster music smacks of poor imitation at best and reinforces the general impoverishment of hip hop and its culture at worst.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some Cyne to listen to.

Mic & Rep :: Last of the Best