SMACK the Album: Vol. 1
Label: Koch Records
Author: Andrew Matson
If you know SMACK, you know them as premier purveyors of "street DVDs." They made their name circulating their own brand of hiphop-specific DVD magazine: a collection of interviews, "on-location" videos (rapping shot on the street, music added post-production), and exclusive Fight Klub-style battles. It's a great idea, especially given the media's penchant for neutering any and all things street. This issue is the first to be distributed on a large scale, and the inaugural Koch Records release comes with an accompanying album.
Timely installments of exclusive rap multimedia (audio and visual together, at last!) are good news for any hiphop head, but SMACK also goes "behind the music" and lets artists speak uncensored, representing themselves naturally in their natural habitat. This exclusive, insider edge means SMACK is as official a grounds for beef-airing as can be: the info comes straight from the source, not The Source. Gossip is a sore subject for those that love hiphop; it's trivia and we shouldn't care, but we kind of do. It's also kind of cool to see rap stars unchecked and on-the-fly; you can be anyone on wax, but SMACK captures reality.
For one second, think about the possibilities. A glimpse inside the Wu-mansion. Primo in the studio. Snoop at a barbecue. Lil' Jon getting crunk. Paul Wall driving around with a camera, C.O.P.S.-style. E-40 actually ghostriding his whip. Young Jezzy actually selling crack! Joking aside, the reality angle of SMACK's guerilla media montage is what makes it unique and truly exciting. Very exciting indeed, except...
...all your favorite hiphop stars are retarded. This issue of SMACK, the only one I've seen, proves how serious a disservice rap artists can do themselves with the reins off. To make my point I'll commence with the good, bad and ugly.
The best part of the DVD is the battle, pitting Serius Jones against Murda Mook. You know Serious Jones from, if nothing else, his star-making defeat of Jin on MTV2's "sucka-free" Fight Klub. His wit and poise are formidable, but his comic timing is almost unbeatable. Murda Mook looks fangless, especially surrounded by his homies. His boys yell too hard at mediocre stabs, punctuating so-so darts with whoops and hollers. Plus, I don't buy him as half the gangsta he purports to be. Serius Jones could have sleepwalked through this one, but actually lets Mook and his hooligans get under his skin a little bit. Who knows if he'll be able to parlay his wit into a recording career, but the written-for-the-battle freestyle throwdown is clearly Serius Jones' bread and butter.
Mannie Fresh is interviewed in the studio. He makes some of the funniest music in hiphop, and it all makes sense when you see him hanging out with expensive tools, kicking back and enjoying his gift. He's devoid of pretense and offers genuine insight into his beatmaking and life. Of all the SMACK featured artists (save Bun B and maybe Mack 10), Mannie's got the credentials to be an asshole and brag about what he's done. It's to his credit that he acts like less of a star than everyone else.
A thoughtful Chamillionaire is found on the premises of his busted-to-bangin' car lot, an enterprise he clearly cares about. He talks shop a little, but responds with sincerity to questions about the Houston scene and his tumultuous role in it. He comes off humble and hopeful, a man of the people. He's careful to make no enemies, but doesn't skirt the Paul Wall issue. He allows that they made great music together, fell out over common bullshit, and now pretty much stay away from each other. He expresses that there is no bad blood between them, no unfinished business, but states his peaceful intentions like a man. Sure he's flossed out kicking it in a ridiculous whip, but he presents a sober, collected, mature front.
SMACK finds E-40 posted in the Bay with people all around him. He talks to the camera outdoors as friends walk in and out of the action. He's ultra-casual, just being himself, but says nothing of real importance, if you undersmell me. Jeezy (this issue's cover man) shifts the spotlight to his CTE crew, which results in a whole lot of posing with guns and impressing of hardness. B.G. and Juvenile (in separate interviews) don't say anything too stupid, but neither has anything earth-shattering to say about the Ca$h Money empire or Hurricane Katrina. Funkmaster Flex mostly restates his stature as the biggest DJ ever, but also goes out of his way to speak about how much he hates Benzino. Not too touchy of a stance, but he shows himself to be thoughtful enough to state how important The Source has been to hiphop over the years.
Truly disheartening interviews are had with DMX and Paul Wall. A lot of SMACK's interviewees are high or drinking, but DMX appears unhinged. Alcohol, weed, and all kinds of implied amphetamines run through his system as he states over and over that he IS the hood. Hanging out at night by a random chain-link fence, he instigates and participates in push-up competitions, sucks down cigarettes, and runs his mouth a mile a minute. DMX is a tortured dude and SMACK has caught him at his least stable. He's got a lot of heart and I hope he gets himself back on track..
Paul Wall speaks from outside a club, hosting a party for the release of his new signature iced-out watch. Maybe he bought some snow from Jeezy or maybe he's taking his buddies' Adderal, but whatever it is shows. He speed-talks through promoting himself in every way imaginable, pointing out that rap provides no one with a 401K. Paul Wall is on his grind. What a revelation. In response to a potentially sensitive question about Chamillionaire, he reminds people that their albums together can still be purchased. He goes on to deliver an ostensible aside, really directed at Cham, all about how easy rapping is and that being good at it isn't an accomplishment. He knows Koopa has been touted as the "lyricist" of the two, but wants the people to know that being lyrical ain't shit. He'd rather be judged by his ability to make cream. I like Paul Wall a lot, and it hurts to hear him trash hiphop. His goofy humor and region-specific flows are great, but he comes off here as cold and cocky.
Maino, Lord Tariq (aiyyo, where's Shaq at now?), Bleu Davinci (dude, the name...), Shea Davis, The Inc. Gang...man, all these guys are the same. This is rap that goes beyond shit mothers of America don't like; this is some ignorant-ass gangsta nothingness. Without any intelligence (i.e. humor, cleverness, or introspection), gangsta rap is about as vacant as music gets. There isn't one interesting bar dropped. Almost every rapper here decides to do their video smoking blunts and brandishing guns, and The Inc.'s goons (ironically the only dudes with real mic-presence) show firsthand how to ruin America by encouraging new clique members (they brag, "He's only thirteen!") to believe the hype.
Yeah, Bun B and friends rip up "Ain't Nothin' Fuckin' Wit Texas," and Erick Sermon, Redman and Keith Murray are refreshing together for "Don't Make Sense," but those songs aren't really that great. Of course, they shine next to the rest of SMACK's unintentional "what's wrong with hiphop" line-up.
The CD is comprised of the same songs the DVD includes as videos, so you can take the whole shebang in your car (if you are, like the rest of us, too poor and stupid not to have DVD screens in your headrests).
I swear to God that I love thugged-out rap done well, but I also readily admit that I'm a hater. Didn't Ghostface show y'all motherfuckas how coke n' crime rap should be done? The reality that comes across harshest here is that too many rappers aspire to be merely rich and dangerous, surrounding themselves with a crew that praises itself at every opportunity. Props to SMACK for doing the DVD magazine thing with nice packaging and big stars, but so much more could have been done here. I love hiphop, but this state-of-affairs portrait shows too much that is entirely unlovable. Whether SMACK is wack or not is ultimately up to you, but you have to admit it's real. All too real.
Content: 5 of 10
Layout: 8 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 6.5 of 10
Originally posted: July 18, 2006