Balance. I don't know, maybe because I'm a Libran, but I know that balance has always played a pivotal role in my life. Of course, most of my life is usually wildly out of balance, but at least I recognise the importance of the concept. Most of us have to balance various aspects of our personalities everyday, in every way, trying to meet the demands of everyone around us. At work, you must be seriously professional - even your sense of humour can't cross any one of predetermined boundaries. In your social circle you have to figure out which friends you should commit time to, which parties to attend, who to talk to for how long... You get the idea.
Where balance is most obvious is when creating or performing. It could be a surgeon who needs to give off a vibe of pure arrogance, in order to convince the patient he is highly skilled. Or maybe the priest giving off peaceful vibes of humility, even though he is tired of how mankind sabotages itself on the daily. It might be a rapper in the booth trying to convince the listener to buy into him, all through braggadocio. Whatever the circumstance, figuring out how much arrogance and humility is needed (to win over your target) is half the battle. Any man trying to win the affection of a girl knows precisely what I am talking about. My early days of trying to get women was basically a catalogue of "What Not To Do To Get Women" - until I finally figured out the successful cocktail of implied cockiness and being humble. It proved intoxicating.
Which brings us to Grip Grand - a rapper so skilled lyrically, yet totally at odds with the anti-deferential stigma attached to hip hop in America. Maybe as a Brit, I get the whole "I don't think I'm special, even though I'm clearly talented" thing (even though I personally think I am ridiculously special). In other words, he is incredibly clever with words, but his battle with getting recognised lies in conflict with his strengths as a human - being down to earth, humble and quietly self-assured. These are qualities that probably won't help you get ahead in hip hop - look at Lil Wayne and his "swagger" which has convinced an entire hip hop generation that he is the Messiah, without there actually being much reason thus far (hence his, up until now, "zero" popularity rating in the UK - he has no hits, people!).
That Grip Grand balances spitting razor-sharp lyrics with actually PRODUCING most of the album is another balancing act he has to perform - and one that he manages admirably. There are enough guest producers to diversify the soundscape enough, but Grip himself covers many eras of hip hop himself - and, although he playfully puts himself down in the liner notes, he really shouldn't. I had to double-check that Just Blaze didn't produce "Win the War" - it is an unbelievably hot hornfest; "Hip Hop Classic" has already cemented itself on my Year End Review as one of my favourite songs; "Tomorrow" is reminiscent of OutKast's best work, as Grand sings the chorus wonderfully, contrasting excellently with the emotional nature of the verses. These three tracks all come in the opening quartet of songs, as you realise that you're in for something special. As for the MF Shalem produced dirty funk of "96 Tears" - which alludes to Grip spitting 96 bars in a row - peep some of the lyrics:
"I'm it, and you never is
Hiring, firing—this is my severance
This is my Everest; high? I'm like heaven is!
Treacherous! On the block dropping like Tetris
Entertaining like Cedric, big in all measurements
Pulling out the microphone quick with no hesitance
The first one to switch up his flow—there's no precedent
A brand new kind of sick—there's no test for it
Live from Broakland where I am the sole resident
We can take it out to the curb and go settle it
Or we can take it out to the curb and go peddle it
The mixtape is coming in first like gold medalists
Give 'em like a hundred bars, I'm so generous
Spit like a cobra except I'm more venomous
When I'm in the booth I'm showing 'em no friendliness
Leave 'em with a heart-shaped hole and a cold emptiness
Theft is just a permanent loan with no interest
Squeeze the microphone like I'm holding a four-fifth and just
Bucka-bucka-ba-blau! The style's so ridiculous!
Gifts like Saint Nicholas, bitch—it ain't Christmas
Shining like Mr. Clean, I'm so Listermint
Not Special Ed, but I'm the magnificent
Start it, I finish it, pardon my penmanship
A-Team, all in your face like Dirk Benedict
Thanks, but don't mention it
Rapping's my job—I'm so into it, and our relationship is so intimate
Try a lil' tenderness
I'm always hurting somebody's feelings, 'cuz all of these guys are real sensitive
Hey, you're not fresh—what the fuck is your style for?
I'm sorry, but the truth is inconvenient like Al Gore"
That is the middle section of 96 continuous bars, and the rest of the traditional album songs are even hotter lyrically, like "Love/Drama" and the Percee P featuring "Paper Cup." There are almost no weak moments on this album, and, despite all of the posturing in the attached marketing blurb about how self-effacing and humble, blah blah blah, Grip Grand is, I'm happy to report that almost NONE of it comes across on the actual tracks. He sounds as fresh and confident as almost anyone out there. And so he should. Rap NEEDS an element of arrogance, cockiness, whatever you call it - I call it "self-belief" and you will hardly ever succeed if you don't have it. Perhaps we don't need to show off all the time, of course, but in the dog-eats-doggy-dogg world hip hop finds itself in, artists like Grip Grand shouldn't feel bad about blowing their own trumpet. If he didn't, this album would never have reached me. And that would have been a damn shame. If you love hip hop, you'll love this album. Go buy. Now.
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 9 of 10
Originally posted: April 1, 2008