It's a phrase you've probably heard used in conversation with your friends before: "I think we're getting a little bit off topic here." The implication? Somehow you or the other party steered the dialogue in a direction that had nothing to do with the original subject. If you're trying to discuss the problems of society or political events, going off topic isn't very helpful. On the other hand, when engaged in a situation where the other party is exceedingly dull, going off topic can be the only recourse to keep yourself from falling asleep. And in a talking with a close personal friend, both parties can go off topic at random without warning and engage in a lively rapport for hours on end. Perhaps going off topic hasn't gotten a fair shake.
Off Topic, the rap artist, certainly will. I was first introduced to this MC by an associate of his who wanted the lyrics published on OHHLA.com. Both that site and RapReviews.com have one thing in common - to be considered for inclusion, your release should be available in stores nationally or via a major retail website. For the associate in question this wasn't at all hard to prove - Off Topic's album is readily available on Amazon.com. As I read the rhymes, one particular section of his song "Desensitized Lyrics" really caught my attention:
"I had my memory erased on purpose
See I no longer remember my birthday
So I only get older one day at a time
And when people ask me 'What's your sign?' I say 'Stop'
And end the conversation and answer the question simultaneously
Gone are the day when my horoscope tells me how to behave
Hence my name - which is amazingly unimportant"
On paper, Off Topic had all the hallmarks of being a good MC - insightful, funny, and posessed of the ability to trascend rhyme and use the poetry of written word to express deeply significant ideas. Good MC's aren't made on paper though. They require a flow that conveys their ideas effectively, a voice that doesn't bore the listener and beats that match the words to both create an effective portrait in your mind and nod your head at the same time. With so many elements to being a successful rapper, it's often not surprising that an MC can be great on paper and fail to make an impact musically. Therefore Off Topic's "I Think I Exist" had to be reviewed to find out whether the artist could live up to his potential rap dopeness.
"I Think I Exist" does succeed in some areas. As a rapper, Off Topic does do well at engaging the listener. His flow and voice are an intriguing mixture of Aceyalone and Aesop Rock. He's decidedly indie as fuck, releasing the album on the tiny Code Poets imprint, and a strong believer in the DIY aesthetic as he self-produced this entire album. Unfortunately, this is where "I Think I Exist" starts to break down. The title of "Headaches" is altogether apt, as it sounds like the bastard child of a Rubberroom and Scienz of Life. On the other hand, some songs like "One Space" are poignantly effective in their simplicity, as this one is built off simple piano chords yet tells a powerfully emotional tale about a girl Topic loved:
"She's got her ears pierced, but that's it
No nipples, belly button, no clit
A little bit of make-up, but she could do without
None of the fakeness that Phife talked about
The girl's just chill and I can't understand it
She's got two really fucked up parents
Her dad thinks he's a pimp, her mom is transparent
They're both focused on grandma's inheritance
I remember nearly every detail of the transaction
But I'm still not really sure how it happened
All I know is that I gave a little part of me
Now I'm just a little less of what I used to be"
Off Topic has come up with two-thirds of the necessary formula for rap success. On paper, he's a good writer with a lot of room to grow. His flow is effective and can hang with other underground MC's quite nicely, although at times a little more inflection and tonal variation would make it even better. The self-produced beats though are unfortunately and somewhat unfairly what holds Off Topic back from making it to that next level. Will Off Topic be on topic in your next conversation about underground hip-hop? If his own beats improve or he links up with an outside producer, he has the potential to be talked about for years to come.
Music Vibes: 5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10
Originally posted: April 20, 2004