According to his current press bio, C-Rayz Walz has 11 albums to his name. How come I don't know a single one? Where have I gone wrong? Is it the Nelly records I bought? Should I have kept my ears to the streets listening for rap skillionaires instead of having my head in the clouds listening to rap millionaires? More Justus League, less G Unit? Is this when reality seeps in and I realize all the good shit I've been missing out on? You probably don't think it's unusual to occasionally draw a blank when it comes to underground rap. You might even think it's unprofessional of me to admit my ignorance because as a reviewer at the very least I'm supposed to act like I know. But I don't. Yes, I've probably heard the odd C-Rayz Walz verse here and there, but fact is I couldn't identify him in a line-up of suspects nor in the line-up of a posse cut.
Doing my job like I am supposed to, here's what a bit of research brought to light. Early on in his recording career, C-Rayz Walz was on three essential underground releases of 2001. Aesop Rock's "Labor Days," Cannibal Ox' "The Cold Vein," and the Molemen's "Ritual of the Molemen." (Whaddaya know, I have these all.) Seven of his full-lengths have appeared on his own Sun Cycle Entertainment. He has been featured on the criticially acclaimed "Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture" compilation.
Between 2003 and 2005 he released "Ravipops (The Substance)," "We Live: The Black Samurai EP," and "Year of the Beast" on Definitive Jux. Now he has teamed up with Urchin Studios to release an album set summarized as 'The C-Rayz Collectors Classics' consisting of three limited edition albums, the first of which, "The Dropping," was released earlier this year. While on "The Dropping" he worked with various producers, the second installment, "Chorus Rhyme," is entirely produced by Drum and Knowledge from the group Parallel Thought, on whose '05 "Drugs, Liquor, Sex & Cigarettes" EP the BX MC was present with the track "Chorus II."
The name of the song matters because all tracks on "Chorus Rhyme" after the intro have the word 'chorus' in their name, six are even numbered from "Chorus 1" to "Chorus 6." Which brings us to one of the key characteristics of C-Rayz Walz the rapper - wordplay with a pinch of sarcasm. A skill that is essential when taking on opponents and that Walz, undefeated three-time 'End of the Weak' champ, apparently has mastered. It is freestyle battling, however, that is often considered the antithesis to successful songwriting. Some rappers are notorious for excelling at one while failing miserably at the other. It has been said that a hook can make or break a song, while the only hook that comes in handy in a battle is the pugilistic metaphor for a blow to an adversary's ego.
In hip-hop, the chorus is often considered a necessary evil. Those who are at the forefront of selling the music stress the role of choruses as those bars that anchor the song in the listener's head. Some even argue that writing choruses is an art in itself, and that many advanced writers fail at coming up with memorable hooks, while less talented ones time and again prove their knack for catchy choruses. Considering its importance for radio and club play, to go without a hook in a rap song is a silent protest against commercial demands. Many years ago even Shaquille O'Neal made it a point to team up with The RZA and Method Man for a - hook-free - single called "No Hook."
That very song is referenced by one of the 30 rappers on C-Rayz' "Chorus Collection," a 15-minute cipher that loosely revolves around the topic of choruses, rapper after rapper (with only few missing the point) voicing his or her opinion on hooks. Black or white, male or female, domestic or foreign, more prominent or less, the sheer amount of MC's makes "Chorus Collection" the definite statement on the subject. Among those in support of hooks are Wordsworth and iCON the Mic King:
"Chorus is connectin' my verses, raise the curtain
The crowd in unison has us connectin' in person
Used so you know the titles of my songs, vibe and sing along
What to ask for when you buy it in the stores
Without a hook you would OD from my bars applied
You need a break before your brain and your heart subside"
[iCON the Mic King]
"Keep it simple, stupid, the chorus explains what the core is
You drive the point in vain in hopes the brain'll absorb it
If it's pure kids endorse it, nigga, it's common sense
You bait hooks with call and response to be fishin' for compliments
(Sometimes you just got to flow...)
Man, that's the post-modern thinkers
Hook, line and sinker
Your songs don't move me, they might give me a light push
but punchlines ain't enough, you gotta come with the right hook"
To counter, the following are critical of choruses:
"We absolutely hate your chorus but we must congratulate you
Yup, we snatched the bait, so catchy like that old 'Apache' break
These past two days your crafty eighter's left me like a basket case
A classic case of musical brainwashing in a massive state"
"These A&R's appall us
Like, 'Nice verse, but we want a chorus
then you'll be larger than a dinosaur is'
But fuck a Brontosaurus cause the shit I drop will top enormous
Yo, my shit is hot, get your fire insurance
They ask Double AB for catchy hooks
but all I rap about is Gangsta Bitches, that's the joint Apache took
So when they ask for hooks, this is what AB'll do
Hook you up to feeding tubes, that's what you'll be eatin' through"
Finally, the host himself speaks to us as chorus incarnate:
"It's what you need to catch fish with
The Candyman's weapon of choice, Peter Pan's archnemesis is this shit
Just don't let me connect one to your cheek
cause if I do - you will tongue-kiss your teeth for a week
Kareem Abdul Jab-Y'all, I stay hittin'
No dunks, but if the beat's bangin', they'll listen
That's why my style is the science of Jux
I am Demetrius Mitchell, I am the Hook"
The fact that a rapper ponders the meaning of choruses and invites dozens of guests to give their own interpretation shows that he's giving thought to rap music's fundamental mechanics. But that doesn't mean that he decides to play along. If battling is all about making sense, a rap song can be nonsensical and still prove penmanship. The question is do the rhymes actually add up to a song? Choruses are just one factor in that equation. The topic or theme, the vocal interpretation of the lyrics, the musical orchestration, and last but not least the song title all determine whether bars and hooks form a rap song.
The problem with "Chorus Rhyme" is not that C-Rayz would forego choruses (he doesn't, at least not completely) or that for no apparent reason he titles songs "Chorus 4" or "Leo Chorus," the problem is that lyrically he tends to write mere lines. What's more, he regularly records these lines separately, which singles them out even more. Walz is a vivid rapper with a penchant for metaphors similar to a GZA or a Slug. We might even call him a hip-hop philosopher, considering the aphorisms he drops, some of which are simply phenomenal:
"I'm not a human being, I'm a human doing."
"I look at the big picture and it's the angles I treasure."
"Peace to Rosie the Riveter
We all political prisoners
waitin' for God to deliver us"
"They cut off your mind when you work with your hands
when you work with your mind, they cut off your hands"
"My fans think I'm rich cause they seein' the wealth
You started rhymin' so you wouldn't have to be yourself"
A thin line between hell and 'Where the hell's that?'
The streets eat cats like a beast from Melmac"
"Monkey see, forget how monkeys do
when they hang with gorillas and become one of the crew
With bandanas and boots they turnin' cold, it's bananas but true"
As intriguing as the insightful side of this rapper is, on "Chorus Rhyme" C-Rayz rarely expands on his gems. He seldomly attempts to make a point over more than two or two and a half lines. He slaps his lines on the table, one after the other, without much regard whether the pieces of the puzzle ever create a cohesive picture or not. Call it "Adding on Rap" without Lakim Shabazz. It's like he says in "Leo Chorus": "My verse is pregnant / with so much contractions I'ma give birth to a segment." Listening to him makes you appreciate rappers who, simple their lyrics may be, can pen and deliver verses who have beginnings and endings. Only few rappers have been able to leave a mark with surreal, stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Kool Keith, Godfather Don, or the Beastie Boys come to mind. Despite claiming, "I'm grinnin' madly when the pen and pad meet," Walz is simply not demented enough to plead insanity and make a career out of it. It's too obvious that he wants to be intelligent while he doesn't seem too willing to finish his thoughts.
When he says that "every line's a crime, every paragraph's a case / in this trial attributed to life in the first place," you wish that his own paragraphs would constitute cases. A few do, and that's where the infinite potential of C-Rayz Walz surfaces. The charismatic rapper can easily surpass your average incoherent, wordy, pseudo-intellectual MC, but he needs to calm down and take the occasional breather, not so much vocally but lyrically. Old fashioned songwriting can go a long way, ask De La Soul. Maybe this is all the more apparent as Walz' lyrics can make an awful lot of sense. There's wordplay on "Chorus Rhyme" that, if hardened and sharpened, would absolutely kill it.
Musically, Parallel Thought do a decent job. They supply the Stronghold member with simple, identifiable tracks that give off the warm, natural glow only samples can provide. From uptempo banger to introspective soul-searcher, it's all there. There's even a "DJ Chorus" featuring three turntablists. On a couple of tracks the vocals are clearly not professionally produced, but that comes with the territory and only indicates that the star of this show could have done better. As it is, C-Rayz Walz contents himself to "scribble gems on walls next to bathroom stalls." Overall, "Chorus Rhyme" isn't too shabby of a restroom to check out some fresh tags. Now I just have to find out where Walz does his graf pieces.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: August 7, 2007