Albany, NY doesn't seem like the ideal breeding ground for Hip-Hop. Matter of fact, it's a rare occasion that an act in New York, but out of New York City, makes much noise. It seems Hip-Hop's birthplace tends to cast too much of a shadow to allow much shine for anyone outside of the immediate area. Shyste, or as his website name implies – "the real" Shyste, hails out of New York's capital and, as his album title ambitiously declares, is trying to become "the exception" to this trend.
The album starts off with an intro consisting of the overdone, played out concept of turning the radio dial and stopping at various stations all of which are playing "commercial" music. Among the culprits are Eminem and what is perceived as a stereotypical Southern beat. The intro sets the tone for the album, though probably not in the way Shyste intended. While Shyste believes his music is "the exception" and real, and raw hip-hop, as do almost all acts nowadays, the truth is that it's identical to anything else out on the market. It's not a knock at Shyste, as it doesn't necessarily make his music bad, but it does disappoint those who buy into the hype. Aside from its unintentional implications, the intro joins the rest of the skits as pointless and unentertaining additions to the album. Why rappers continue to attempt to fill albums with skits is beyond me, especially considering most albums tend to lack any cohesive theme or flow. Among the skits on this album is "I'll Punch You In Yer Face (Skit)" where Shyste "calls" a record store and randomly inserts the title statement into the conversation. Had it been a real call it may have been funny, but being that the stereotypical uptight "white guy" voice used to represent the record store employee is obviously acted out the skit is just pointless. The rest of the skits fall into the same category or are more like "inside jokes" that only those who share Shyste's sense of humor would find funny.
Skits aside, the rest of the material found on "The Exception" is good for a listen or two, but holds very little replay value. It's not bad music as Shyste is a decent MC and producer, and the rest of the producers on the album also do their job well enough. What holds Shyste back is the fact that he brings nothing new or exceptional to the table.
"The Ox Swinger" is served over an upbeat piano sample and serves as an intro to Shyste and plays of the "ssshhh" sound in his name as the hook features various words containing the syllable. "4 Barz" uses a more mellow guitar sample, and Shyste once again brags about his skills, album sales, cars, etc… "Suntin'" is the first Shyste produced track on the album, and the beats cascading voice/instrument melody is dope, though a bit repetitive. On the mic Shyste alternates between rhyming "suntin'" and other similar sounding words. Rather than sound clever, the use of the word "suntin'" so often sounds more like a crutch for Shyste. This song exhibits Shyste's main problem as an emcee, the fact that he's mostly unoriginal and unimpressive on the mic. He's not a punch-line emcee like Joe Buddens or Papoose, he's not a "conscious" emcee like Common or Mos Def, he's not a gangsta rapper, though he takes on small elements from all these styles. Ideally such elements would mix to produce the likes of someone such as Jay-Z, but in Shyste's case he isn't talented or captivating enough to trek such waters.
Because of this his attempts at various styles are mostly forgettable and you never get too much of a feel for who Shyste is outside of the fact that he's cocky. Party attempts such as "Drop Ya Backside" and "Forth n Back" are stereotypical call and response approaches. "Drop Ya Backside" is self-produced and jacks the sample from The Beatnut's "Se Acabo," this jacked sample only strengthened my observation that Shyste sounds a lot like Psycho Les. "Break North" is your typical trash-talking track, preceded by a pointless ‘Call From Satan" which has little to do with the track. "Finer Arts" is another similarly themed track. "Where I'm From" starts out by Shyste poking fun at the idea he might drop some "commercial shit," yet the track sounds like Swizz Beats at his Casio-worst and the hook focuses on how "cats ride" and "shit is live" where Shyste is from.
Overall, Shyste isn't bad but he also isn't noteworthy. He pushes the idea he isn't commercial, but his album contains all the elements found on your typical major label release. With that said, "The Exception" can't be recommended above anything in that category as Shyste lacks the charisma and personality that so-called "commercial" acts tend to use to set themselves apart. Lyrically, Shyste isn't too amazing as he barely manages to hold the listener's attention and rarely drops a dope one-liner. Though "The Exception" was aimed to break out and put Shyste and Albany on the map, the average material found on this album will likely not be enough to motivate anyone, in New York City or elsewhere, to make an exception and bump Shyste instead of their current favorite emcee.
Music Vibes: 5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5 of 10
Originally posted: June 14, 2005