I must be living in 1987. There’s no other possible explanation. I know what the calendar on the wall says, but it’s wrong. For some reason law enforcement officialsstill blame hip-hop for causing violence. That can’t possibly be right. Surely by now we’ve all learned that hip-hop reflects the violence of the environment it comes from and not vice versa. Poverty and disenfranchisement breeds hustle and entrepeneurship, the kind of hustle Corporate America doesn’t like to acknowledge even if they profit from it. After all somebody has to manufacture and distribute the guns; somebody has to make and sell the baking soda; somebody has to supply the police with batons and uniforms. In this cauldron of insanity tempers boil and bubble over, from innocent bystanders just looking for a way out of hell to guilty onlookers who just want to be left alone to make a dishonest dollar. The police ought to be THANKFUL that hip-hop music and culture creates an outlet for all of that tension. Let hip-hop speak on it, let the people in the clubs dance to it, turn all of that negative energy into a positive release. Yet in 2007 the words of Ice Cube from almost twenty years ago still echo in my head:
“Fuckin with me cause I’m a teenager
with a little bit of gold and a pager
Searchin my car, lookin for the product
Thinkin every nigga is sellin narcotics”
Those quick to point the finger at rap music never had to live the day to day life Hakeem Seriki, better known as Chamillionaire, did growing up on the North side of Houston. Rising above hardship and poverty with intelligence and determination, Chamillionaire got his hustle on without winding up another statistic the same way Too $hort did in Oakland – HUSTLING MUSIC. Why push weight when you can push tapes? Unfortunately the more things change, the more they stay the same. Law enforcement is still fucking with rappers, claiming their music causes violence, saying their crews are little more than gangs, and even creating special units designed to target hip-hop artists for illicit activity. It’s staggering to consider the hundreds of millions of dollars wasted that could actually be spent IMPROVINGurban neighborhoods – build a park or a rec center or give some money to the schools to buy more supplies or hire teachers. Nope – your local government would rather fund the “Hip Hop Police” and send them out to harass Chamillionaire. Over a pulsating Jonathan ‘JR’ Rotem beat Cham plays the part of both the frustrated MC and the cop whose job it is to ruin his life:
Cham: “Officer I didn’t do it, you can’t blame me for this
Could you please loosen up the handcuffs on my wrists?
You can call me what you wanna mayne but I ain’t a snitch
No cooperation is exactly what you will get
‘Til I talk til my lawyer, you get no reply”
Cop: “You’ve obviously been watchin too much CSI
I’m not a crash dummy so don’t even try
to talk your dirty trash to me, no BFI
If you are not guilty of anything, then why did you run?”
Cham: “Cause you the police! And plus I saw you cockin your gun
And the chamber wasn’t empty, it was obviously one”
Cop: “If you think I’m believin that one then you’re obviously dumb”
The song would have been hot with or without the Slick Rick cameo in the third verse, but the irony will not be lost on long-time hip-hop fans who recognize the numerous legal troubles Rick himself has been through.
Slick Rick: “A big celebrity, a case we long for
You a pirate – why you got that eyepatch on for?
Funny – puttin people in a hearse what I heard for
Where were you the night of April 21st son?
Home – I think you got your facts wrong, gat’s on
You, Chamillionaire, Rob, Chuck, couple cats on Melview
What? – We gonna have to jail you too
In the lineup, don’t speak until we tell you to”
It’s not a coincidence that Chamillionaire named this album “Ultimate Victory.” For Hakeem Seriki it’s been a decade plus of long hard work. He’s been hustling mixtapes, putting out records, losing friends and making enemies, all while watching so many people who he undoubtedly grew up idolizing in the Texas rap scene die far too young. At this point in his life it really is the ultimate victory to be releasing a long awaited new album. Cham has spoken very openly about squashing all his past beefs and opening a new chapter not only in his life but in hip-hop music itself. That’s not to say Cham has given up his swagger and gone to meditate in a Buddhist temple though – he’s still out there on the frontlines giving rap fans the true “Evening News”:
“Welcome to the evening news, I thank you all for tuning in
Yes I’m your host and your journalist, Chamillionaire, so let the news begin
Our helicopters out in the streets, look at the screen and let’s zoom it in
Cause Ca$his is live at the scene, hey Ca$his how are you my friend?
Got no time for no interviews (got-got no time for no interviews)
No time to trip but don’t get confused, cause this type of news opinions and views
Got no time for no interviews (got-got no time for no interviews)
But you know I keep my ear to the streets so it’s up to me to bring you the truth
I saw a movie were George Bush had a bearded man on his squad
So much power from oil money that poor folks can’t sit by him
No problem, Osama, Bin Laden, been hidin
So long that them pictures all starting to look like him on them milk cartons
Don Imus made comments that made everybody forget about him
That’s him, Anna Nicole got pregnant and had kids by him
Rest in peace to Virgina Tech, too many innocent kids dyin
Well let’s just blame hip-hop and act like that’s the big problem”
Yes ladies and gentlemen, there’s nothing wrong with America. Just ask Bill O’Reilly – everything bad must be Ludacris’ fault. He’s corrupting today’s youth with those funny rhymes, catchy dance moves, and profuse profanity. Chamillionaire is undoubtedly his next target. Thankfully for the rest of us he can’t stop Kane from giving Cham a beat, or Universal Records from putting “Ultimate Victory” in record stores everywhere. Chamillionaire may be blowing up since winning a Grammy for “Ridin'” but he hasn’t forgotten his Southern roots. U.G.K. represent on the album as Bun B appears on “Pimp Mode” and Pimp C raps on “Welcome to the South.” The Beat Bullies put down a hard guitar backdrop so Chamillionaire and Lil Wayne can party like a “Rock Star.” Even Devin the Dude gets down on a smooth Happy Perez beat as he and Cham rap about surviving on life’s “Rocky Road”:
Cham: “Friendship and business don’t mix
With anyone else it’s just business, with friends I’m personally pissed
Is this a curse or a gift? Guess I was blessed with my wish
Don’t tell me that you feel my pain that I seen, it’s best that we switch
You take the fortune and fame, see if it’s what you expected
Take the money and change and be careful where you invest it
Just take the test and don’t stress it, you get stopped by a detective
Tryin to get in your personal life, gotta do your best to protect it”
There’s plenty like on the solo tip though, as Chamillionaire pulls no punches and lets you into his world to feel every experience he’s had and what his life is like. Cham whimsically apologizes in advance for anybody he’ll offend before spitting over an amped up remake of Europe’s “The Final Countdown” on the tell-all tale “Industry Groupie.” He links up with the Beat Bullies to smooth it out and go on “The Ultimate Vacation” but doesn’t forget to hook up with The Runners and “Come Back to the Streets.” Chamillionaire updates an old KRS-One theme on “I Think I Love You” by talking about the troubles chasing wealth can bring, but ultimately proves that he “Won’t Let You Down” before getting a well earned “Standing Ovation” for this CD.
“Ultimate Victory” is everything one could have hoped for as an official sophomore album follow-up to “The Sound of Revenge” – there’s no slump here. Cham even throws out a bone to the “Ridin'” fans by linking up with Krayzie Bone again for the track “The Bill Collecta” but it’s just a small piece of the puzzle that ultimately presents a much bigger picture. Cham exhibits all of the tools a top level rapper needs. His breath control is impeccable whether fast or slow, his vocal tone is warm and inviting, his lyrics are written to be both entertaining and thought-provoking and his charisma is WELL above par. While the album falls just short of perfection on a couple of tracks musically, “Ultimate Victory” is still one of the best albums 2007 will have to offer. Ice Cube once said he was “comin straight from the underground [where] a young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown” but Chamillionaire is rushing through the door he and N.W.A kicked down and his “Ultimate Victory” is an album that speaks the truth regardless who likes it or not. What should really scare the Bill O’Reilly motherfuckers of the world is that this isn’t even Chamillionaire at his best – he’s only going to keep getting better from here.