I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but this is my official introduction to Australian rap. Official in the sense that it's the first time that I hold a CD in my hands the way it is sold. So far a couple of swapped CD-R's were my only insight into the scene Down Under. When I first get a promo CD I usually skip through the whole thing, listening in on the first 10-15 seconds of each track just to get a rudimentary idea of what awaits me. There were 20 tracks to trigger on "The Same Ugly Business," and almost all of them welcomed me with cursing. Foul language comes with the territory that is rap music, but when I preview a piece of music, I don't really like being cursed at. My mind is on the sound, on the composition, etc. So my first impression of a.DD was dominated by the attitude rather than the music, and I hoped to find some balance between the two once I sat down for a serious listening session.
Partially I was able to deal with this CD the way I would want to deal with it - as a music listener. But the attitude remained dominant. a.DD revels in antisocial behavior. His "attitude's like Nasir - hate me now." It takes a while for his misanthropic character to take shape, as a considerable number of tracks feature battle raps. Battle rap is a naturally competitive genre and should not be pursued at length just for the sake of it. Let me just highlight one potential problem. In "Its My Turn to Speak" a.DD addresses competition with "Fuck all you fake dudes - you feel me, bitch?" To take him a bit more literally than he probably intended to come across - first he tells them to fuck themselves and then he asks them to feel him? Ignoring all rhetorical undertones, to me that sounds suspiciously like the rapper has no one else to talk to than competition. A fuck you is a fuck you. To follow it up with Feel me, bitch? only takes away from the definite statement fuck you!
Rappers need to be careful not to let their chosen opponents become their only contacts in their obsession to battle them. This obviously doesn't apply to a real battle setting where you either do or die (metaphorically speaking), but when your album has too many battle tracks I'm beginning to wonder just why exactly you're so consumed by what others do. I stress this because who a rapper talks to in his songs is in direct correlation to his artistic range and ability. Thankfully a.DD turns his attention to himself and to an audience that hasn't come to judge fighting words all night long. "Just for Kicks" therefore serves as a good introduction to the entity that is a.DD. Guided by a motivating piano he begins with the confession "I'm an arrogant person; people, they don't like me (...) I'm not gonna lie, gee, I don't even have a job / except to get slightly high and that's what I'm rappin' on." He then paints himself as an MC who takes out opponents in passing: "Who knew I could be faded, still take to school wack rappers who think they made it?" Since victory comes so easy, he turns to other pasttimes: "Lately I been doing weird things just to see / if I do them whether I die or become parapalegic (...) Like to stand in front of trains, watch 'em slam the brakes / stop when they touch my face - I'm deranged."
All of this delivered in a glassy-eyed, nonchalant flow that isn't overly concerned with making a good impression. The Melbourne MC deliberately presents himself as an outsider, harking back to a time when rappers regularly would claim to be a little out there. He even puts it into a nice _Ghost_ metaphor: "They can't even see me like Patrick Swayze / even if they had Whoopi Goldberg translating." Naturally, the outsider status is extended to the music industry as he argues, "Radio won't play me cause I'm not commercially viable / but what do you want me, to lie to you?"
Looks like we got all the ingredients for a successful rap album here. Arrogance, honesty, humor, an independent spirit. So why doesn't "The Same Ugly Business" succeed? There are several reasons. One is that 70 minutes of a.DD prove to be just too much. While his acerbic vocals and snotty attitude are solidly in tune with the battling thing and the portrayed slacker status, he lacks the diversity and agility that such a lengthy performance requires. There are plenty of guests, but only Duck Down's Starang Wondah and Sean Price (on "You Get No Love") and the UK's Nine High (on "Get Serious") provide vocal diversion. Which brings me to a conclusion that can well be viewed as being unfair and ignorant - there are certain accents in the English language that tend to make what's being said sound samey. African American English has a melodic quality and range that make it more suited for rap than other English accents, Australian English included. Since there would be no Australian rap identity if the accent wasn't there, Aussie rappers have every right to stand tall and defend themselves against petty criticism such as this one. Not surprisingly, a.DD and company use their vernacular to further define their being different. As they say on "The Native Tongue": "People can't understand it! / Of course they don't, we don't speak normal language." a.DD isn't trying to charm us, and if he did or if his accent would, it would run contrary to his mic persona. So what irks me about his vocals is solely my problem.
The disc's problem is that the impression of sameness is enforced by the sheer amount of similar tracks, similar thoughts, etc. The production has its moments, but nothing more. There are strong indications that the producers rely solely on their MPC's, often using drums that no programming can remedy. Noteworthy are "One of These Days" with its spaghetti western bent, the '80s pop bounce of "The Same Ugly Business Part Two," the simple enough "Get Serious," intriguing thanks to its unidentifiable instrumental ingredients, and the computerized low-fi soul of "You Get No Love."
Although the title may not refer to any particular ugly business overseas (such as... the rap game), this 2007 album isn't all that different from non-Australian releases past and present. Longtime rap fans and those versed in the ways of the underground will recognize many familiar features. Intelligently used movie samples help elevate the album beyond a mere collection of beats and rhymes. Some songs deserve to be singled out for offering a conceptual angle ("One of These Days," "The Stucci Brothers," "The Real Truth," "Just a.DD Herbs"), "Get Serious" for gathering likeminded MC's professing their dedication to hip-hop. And generally a.DD displays a creative handling of hardships through rap music. Yet that the overall package doesn't seem all that attractive to this reviewer is not simply down to personal taste, as "The Same Ugly Business" objectively is still a good distance away from rap perfection.
Music Vibes: 5.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10
Originally posted: January 13, 2009