Last year one of our writers called the subject of one of his reviews 'a suitable throwback to 90's rap, which was a simpler time when the musicians were doing it for the pure fun of it.' You would have to drug me up with a strong cocktail of A Tribe Called Quest, Tha Liks and Ol' Dirty Bastard for me to subscribe to that statement, and even wearing the most rose-colored glasses I would fail to see how the '90s were a 'simpler time' for rap. Then again, I might say the same thing about the '80s, dumbfounding my elders. Such impressions are mostly a reflection of the age of a listener. If adulthood didn't weigh you down yet, the times indeed may seem simpler in retrospect. But like the Wu back in '93 one is tempted to ask, can it be that it was all so simple then? Even if it was for you, it probably wasn't for others. There are admittedly rap musicians who are having a little bit more fun than others, there always have been, and there always will be. Fun is not the worst career coach, see Diplomats, see NORE, see Ugly Duckling, see Ying Yang Twins.
One '90s rapper who fits the above description is Kurious, a Harlem rapper of Latin descent that made a brief appearance in the first half of the decade. Ties to The Beatnuts, Pete Nice, Bobbito, KMD, etc. didn't help, "A Constipated Monkey" remained his only album. Since then, besides the odd appearance in the MF DOOM universe, recurring news of a comeback were the only vital sign of Kurious. "II" thus has been a long time coming. 15 years to catch up are almost unprecedented in rap music. "Sorry I can't pull you up until the present moment," he apologizes early on, but one fact he is absolutely open about is that he is now a father. Additional allusions to a greater power lead to the presumption that Kurious feels re-born, possibly both through the birth of his son as well as the discovery of faith.
"Brand New Day" exemplifies this re-birth best as Kuri exchanges insight with Dave Dar, a representative of a new generation of conscious rappers, over a serene Hi-Tek composition graced by singer Co Campbell:
"It's pressure, you gotta accomplish so much
And at 38, don't tell me, kid, that's it's no rush
for monetary - and the spiritual must become richer
Drunk and highed-up starin' at my son's picture
It's more potent than any scripture
or any book, it's the reality that hits ya
If I don't give a fuck 'bout myself
I'ma see to it my little man's swimmin' in wealth
I'm not just talkin' money, I mean bein' a father
Teach him to be a man - in my life nobody bothered
But I vow to take it farther
In this story we never lose, mainly cause I'm the author"
Rappers tend to grow up once they finally become aware they are talking to kids, and it's no different with Kurious, when in the second verse he realizes that...
"It's wrong when I say that I don't care for myself
If not for self, how could I ever care for someone else?
Thank you Lord for everything, especially health
Used to let blessings accumulate dust on the shelf
Take nothing for granted
May your heart expand greater than the planet
till the whole universe understands it
That's all real, I'm not here to speak that jibberish
just come to share my love and any pain I'm livin' with"
His son's mother is serenaded to on "Mysterious," although "Is This the End" suggests Kurious is no stranger to baby mama drama. All of this is essential for Jorge Alvarez, but what is it to us? If you're a '90s fan and strictly want the Kurious of old back, or a '00s fan who couldn't care less about some never-was trying to come back, it'll be hard to convince you of "II." A compromise might sound like "Back From up Under," a song representing the past 15 years of Harlem hip-hop with Dame Grease on the beat and Max B on the hook. It's not the most natural combination, yet K-Jorge adjusts to the contemporary swag without betraying his conscious stance:
"Understand, been around half-bricks and shit since '86
never really chose to glorify it on a disc
Now I'm not sayin' that I'm clean like Wisk
and I'm fully aware that fuckin' round with me's high risk
But feel this, I don't agree with how we teach these kids
and hate the way our people eat these bids"
I myself am all for soul-searching and growing up on wax, but even I regret that "Is This the End" is underscored by a sappy Sosa beat. Musical issues arise again and again on "II." Domingo starts "Smiling" with marching band drums, only to fall back on his typically weak choice of drums. There's undeniable potential in a song whose hook is a simple, charming "Look at hip-hop, she's smiiiilin'!" but it's far from realized. 88-Keys provides a wallflower of a beat for the club track "Work It," whose faux L.L. vibe can't be saved by a clever chorus. "Animals and Horses" is an utterly strange mash-up of music better suited for a Linkin Park remix and distorted vocals carrying aimless lyrics. "New Heights" is a clumsy club track from Capital One. "Rain on Me" has inspiring verses but also the most cheesy incorporation of NUMEROUS sped-up '80s pop vocals on the album.
The one song that overcomes these obstacles with ease is "Benetton." This is how you take the old to the new. MC Serch, MF DOOM and Kurious share words of wisdom on a trip down memory lane over a Sosa production. The Journey-sampling beat is lightyears away from the '90s fare that boomed in your jeep. It's emotional, pointing simultaneously towards the sky and the ground, the perfect platform for the "20/20 hindsight" that all three MC's display. They sound exactly like the seasoned veterans that they are, not banking on a triumphant return yet knowing that while rappers can be here today and gone tomorrow, there is always a possibility that they'll be accepted back into the fold the day after tomorrow.
Another successful update comes in the form of "Back With VIC," his reunion with producer Vic Padilla. With its Alchemist-meets-Scott Storch beat it isn't "Uptown Shit II," instead it marries the rapper's newfound purpose with a focused performance (completed by excellent scratched samples from DP One):
"Truthfully you better get used to he
Timeless, forever killin' it youthfully
Never no disrespect, keep followin' the path
Before you know it you'll the connect the dots and know the half
This ain't a game to me, don't move about aimlessly
The force wrote it down, soon it'll be plain to see
To me it's like Snoop and D-r-e
(Back together) Kurious back with VIC"
In his early demo sessions, young Jorge joked that his debut would come out "'bout nineteen... ninetynine." It eventually came out in time, it was this follow-up that took forever. You can't rewind time, and all things considerd Kurious doesn't intend to, despite the dated shout-outs in "Prosperous." The album's only throwback track doesn't even refer to his own catalog but a Slick Rick staple (the highly likeable "Sittin' in My Car"). The only things that Kurious regrets are of personal nature, not professional. He's always had a reflective streak, and naturally it's only gotten stronger. While he's downright depressing on the political "Wake Up," there are also lighter introspective moments such as when he puts his regrets figuratively: "Every day, see, I take out trash / and apologize for actin' like a ass in the past." And there are thoroughly optimistic songs like "Drinks in the Air" that strive to leave all worries behind:
"My hustlers, turn your money legal
Glasses up, cheers to all our people
Imagine what all that power equals
all in together, way more potent than sour diesel"
Like an old acquaintance, Kurious Jorge still has a lot of the guy in him that you once knew, yet he bears the emotional marks life is known to leave. At least as far as Kurious goes, the '90s were indeed 'a simpler time when the musicians were doing it for the pure fun of it.' 15 years later he emerges from "the lab" to "come out with some better shit that's relevant." 'Better shit that's relevant' is such a big word. Why not content ourselves with a diverse, experienced offering from a genuinely good guy? Go see for yourself by checking out the several videos shot for this project.
Music Vibes: 6 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: September 8, 2009