Rap's hustler music has more than it's fair share of cliches. If you listen to it long enough, you'll inevitably hear some of the same stories over and over again. The young man with no options who sold drugs to make a living. The ghetto boy who grew up poor but got over thanks to rap and now lives life lavish. The struggle to survive in an environment full of negative influences and dangerous activities. There is no reason to doubt that at the heart of most of these stories are hip-hop artists speaking from actual experience. Anyone faking an impoverished background as a gimmick is both foolish and likely to be caught by a rap audience suspicious ever since "I'm from the streets" Vanilla Ice tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the world, and ultimately failed.
Once you've started with the basic premise that nobody would be wise to fake a background of growing up poor, selling drugs to survive, and staying one step ahead of death, the standard for artistic achievement in telling these stories is to avoid cliche. Even when your stories are predicated on a 100% truthful background, they're still likely to be uninteresting no matter how "real" they are if it's all been said and done before. Some artists though can succeed even while using cliched ideas and stories that have already been heard before, simply on the strength of their vocal delivery - call it "charisma" for short. Others have a unique wit and ability to say clever things that make you laugh, or phrase things in a clever way that gets your attention. Some artists can even get over simply on the strength of their beats - good production can make any mediocre cliched rap hustler come off more interesting.
Into this picture steps Detroit, Michigan's own cliche. Before 2004 he was an unknown nationally, but has scored an unexpected crossover hit with sex anthem "Coo Coo Chee" featuring Dajira. Knobody and Nomad produced a simple and swinging song, a finger-snapping hand-clapping jam that one can't help but enjoy. The strength of this beat makes it easy to gloss over Ric-A-Che's style, which when one examines more closely on "Lack of Communication" is actually pretty odd. The record label calls his delivery "muscular" but it could more correctly be called "awkward." Ric spits long groups of words at one pitch, then another, then randomly breaks into a flow of singing with no warning. While his diction is clear and the words are easy enough to understand, the sum total of his rap style is not charismatic. It's engaging, but that's only to say it engages your ears the same way a car wreck engages your eyes - you can't help but notice whether you want to or not.
Ric-A-Che could still get over, despite a flow that's not very pleasant to listen to in long doses. Either he could have excellent beats, or his wordplay could be clever enough to garner interest on it's own, or both. "Lack of Communication" does stand up fairly well in the music department. Lead producer Knobody creates plenty of songs that as instrumentals alone would be fun to listen to. The funky guitar jam of "Gettin' Ugly," the pimped out "Belve," the Hammerhead samples on "Thang Thangs" are all tight to death - and that's three of the first four tracks. Standouts include the somber "Hustla Til'," the slowly menacing "Wartime" and the sooth "Dirty Midwest" featuring his homies D.I.M.
Unfortunately for Ric, the ultimate summation is that he goes down swinging on three strikes. The beats do help make this album pleasant to listen to, but the rap vocals are caught in such an ugly mixture of Nelly and Proof that it's hard to enjoy the music for it's own sake. Ric could surpass this handicap by at least being clever, but on repeated listens one finds nothing particularly quotable and a scant few lines that are humerous one-time only, such as on "Coo Coo Chee" when Ric says, "So everytime I hit it I'm like OHH YEAH/daddy little girl tryin to show some public hairs." Okay, public instead of pubic, ha ha. Umm wait, that's not really that funny is it? In fact, it's actually kind of disturbing, in a Rob Feinstein kind of way. You'll only laugh once. You'll only listen to "Lack of Communication" once too if you buy it, an album that's filled with hustler rap cliches, raps that aren't that clever, and a delivery too irritating to enjoy. Knobody should release this one as an instrumental, and sell it on his own.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 3 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5 of 10
Originally posted: June 22, 2004