I had about a dozen different John Malkovich jokes I thought of to open this review with, but none of them are any good, so fuck it. The truth is I probably know this Malkovich better than the actor anyway. He’s been in the rap scene a long time, dating all the way back to the seminal “Sunch Punch” album from his Gershwin B.L.X. crew. Since then he’s been growing as an artist while simultaneously growing weirder as a person. That makes for solo albums that are sometimes described as “an hour and two minutes of unfiltered depression” and other times come out as “a blending of killer old school beats and modern day rap politics.” With Malkovich you never quite know what to expect.
What I didn’t expect was for “The Ayatollah Presley Mixtape” to open with the victory theme from Mega Man X – the music you hear any time you beat any of the 8 bosses or clear one of the Sigma stages. A group of friends are apparently sitting around gaming and one says “yo yo hit reset son” as though this is the kind of thing you’d want to quit out of. Then again their Super Nintendo is fried like an acid high because the music bunches up like a reel to reel tape deck tape tied into knots, so hitting reset’s probably the right idea. Anyway this opening track is called “Slumdogs,” it’s produced by Jon Wayne, and it features vocals from Ali Baba Abnormal and P.U.D.G.E.
“Throw my mixtape in your whip
and blow your speakers just to see how loud it get
You talkin turn it down a bit, stop talkin like a bitch!
Ten bucks buy my shit, give me cash, give me credit cards
Fuck it wire it, fuck the environment!
You talk about trees, I’m talkin ’bout me
So kick a panda in the knee and buy my fuckin CD”
Now the gamer in me clearly appreciates the idea somebody decided to rap over the sound of Mega Man X charging up his arm cannon – and there’s some funny material on “Slumdogs” lyrically. Just picture someone kicking a panda in the knee and try not to laugh at the absurdity. Unfortunately both of these elements are intriguing by themselves and grating combined together. Jon Wayne is trying to go next level with the beat since Random already beat him to rapping over the actual Mega Man music, but it just doesn’t work. A for creativity and effort, F- for being headache inducing. Fortunately the crew hit reset and try again with a new video game loop on “WTF,” an early leak off this CD with a bizarre video backing it up. Malkovich spits stream-of-consciousness raps like “kaleidoscope tightrope blindfold?, mind control/my flow, hyper-soul, fly in the biodome/Malkovich, Indiana Jones on microphones.” DiBia$e is on some shit on this beat, and I mean the kind some rappers wet their blunts with. It’s superior to the opener but it’s still challenging.
Ultimately things do settle down a bit musically, even if they still stay outer space lyrically. Like the “Mixtape” this album professes to be, Malkovich borrows from the better known rappers of the day and puts his own spin on their beats. Even the flips have their own sense of humor: Kanye West’s “Barry Bonds” becomes Malkovich’s “Air Iran.” They’re not all that mainstream though – “Serious” rides on the arguably obscure “Myspace Rappers” beat by Problem, and not the Problem you knew that rapped with The Beatnuts and DJ Honda (that’s Problemz with a Z). Funny I should mention the Nuts though because “Wild Wild West” uses their “Wild Wild What” beat and is an cameo smorgasbord featuring P.U.D.G.E., Sum, E Reece and Neal Rames. None of the jacks are whack but the best out of all of them might be the supremely appropriate “For Guru” which blazes up the Premier produced “Back Against the Wall” by Group Home. It’s the closer of “Ayatollah Presley” and shows us the hip-hop heart that beats deep within Malkovich’s creative soul:
“Yo left foot, right foot, kickin up dust
I’m alive, everything else is a plus
Malkovich, quite good, tell ’em somethin they don’t know
Yo Loki, he’s next up
That’s on me, it’s West up
Uh-huh this a Primo beat, yeah and what?
Since +O.P.P.+, S-N-double-O-P
B.O.B. I been H-I-P, H-O-P
I got clearance like Clarence at the front desk
I got experience, many lives compressed
These cats ain’t seen state lines
I’ve seen international dates lines, boy I make time!”
“Ayatollah Presley” is far from the easiest album to put my finger on, and much like my bad John Malkovich jokes that got discarded, so too did any easy cliches about this mixtape being good or bad. I like Malkovich as a rapper though, and songs like “The Next Edition (3 Hippos)” featuring Mawnstr and Prince Po are everything you want hip-hop to be now and in the years to come. Waes One shines on the production, the artists all bless the track lovely, it’s a winner winner chicken dinner hit. Songs like that and the Quickie Mart produced “Welcome Back” featuring Gotham Green hit all the right notes. Other songs can’t be faulted for being ambitious in their attempt to go next level, but instead go overboard, such as the posse cut “Flossy” which has more direction from DJ Grazzhoppa on production than any of the lyrical contributors can muster. I can’t NOT recommend “Ayatollah Presley” but I can in honesty say that Malkovich is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.