Double standards. The world is full of them. I was watching the idiot box (actually waiting for “Syriana” to show… in your face!) when the very last commercial of that particular ad break came on. In it, you have 3 girls sitting at a cafe, all demographic-ed out, munching on this well-known brand of chocolate. A tall, dark, handsome waiter is taking orders at the next table, and one of the girls spots him (and, crucially, his bottom). She then throws the chocolate wrapper on the floor so that he has to bend over and pick it up – at which point, both she and the camera perve/zoom in on the poor unsuspecting waiter and his backside. Giggles all around. Have I missed something? Here is a list of options:
1) This commercial is incredibly sexist.
2) Women can have their revenge after years of being objectified sexually.
3) It is all a bit of fun and I am over-reacting.
4) Waiters like it when a woman throws herself at them, like an ant to honey.
I have a point, bear with me, but in the meantime, this is the official debut of Anthony J. Shears, the Seattle native (who apparently originates from Brooklyn). Having listened to “The Growth” extensively, I have to admit I am somewhat perplexed. On one hand you have a short eleven-track album; on the other, four wasted bonus tracks bloating it out. To the left lies a talented, charismatic and original MC with an admirable message; to the right, a mixed bag of banging beats and out-of-date timestretch vocals. This album truly is strange fruit.
An interesting introduction kicks things off, with the following track “(S)ound (M)usic) (G)rind” being an absolute certified BANGER. The attached blurb states that this track made waves in Seattle, Washington, and started to ripple outside of that localised area. I’m not surprised, as it is hotter than July, featuring leering synths hang-gliding over a simple handclap beat, and, when combined with Shears dropping strong lyrics with a very good flow, it proves to be simple but startlingly effective. DJ Phonetic laces the beat – in fact, he does the whole album, to mixed results. The following track is pretty terrible musically, and timestretches out a Chrissie Hynde/Pretenders sample (actually using one of my favourite songs) – the idea of “Tears In Your Eyes” is fine, just the execution is lacking in quality. Another awesome track saves the day – “T.K.O.” features a sinister piano loop and the perfect usage of a Mike Tyson audio-BITE… Next up is “We Grind” – an initially-cheesy-but-actually-rather-good up-tempo joint, with just a sprinkle of G Funk flavour.
And after this, the rest of the album pretty much merges into one – solid but unspectacular beats (frequently sampling and switching the pitch of soul), strong vocals featuring emotional content, piano loops and 808’s, bragging… It is all perfectly fine. A song like “Mea Culpa” is good, and at times Shears channels the spirit of an “In My Lifetime” Jay-Z. His punchlines don’t really land, but his more spiritual side is frequently inspirational. His flow is generally well above par, and he can gutter through grimy shit, and smooth out over soul. Long to the short â€“ the guy is talented, but needs just a few more beats.
Back to the issue of double standards. Much of what Shears spits is inspirational, apologetic, brutally honest and pretty damn special – not to mention respectful of women. Yet if you Google him, you come up with his MySpace page first, then an incredibly biased piece of “journalism” that, nonetheless, goes on to detail his trouble with the law – make of it what you will. Either he is a victim of media control or a law unto himself. But if he really is living his life in flagrant disregard to his rhymes, that is the epitome of double standards. What really pisses me off is the inexplicable feeling of impending doom. Anthony J. Shears is talented artist that, if I’m honest, I could see as having genuine star potential. His flow and voice would happily sit on any late-night hip hop radio show, and he has even proved that he can knock out a certified hit (in the form of “SMG”). He is the kind of cat that could sell a couple of hundred thousand albums domestically – if the album was hot, with a strong single. But who knows if that is going to happen? This album is slightly inconsistent (sticking with one producer is always a risk) and, although he has time on his side, you get the feeling he could fall either way – success or ignominy, landing on 21 or going bust. He is young and has bags of potential – let us just hope that he can work with a variety of hot producers (including Phonetic) and channel that talent in the right direction.