Since the first rappers entered a recording studio, hip-hop has been a success story, one often told first-hand by the artists themselves. Rappers soon learned that their stories became more interesting when they related not only the success but also the struggle that comes before it. Even the highly talented but for whatever reason relatively unsuccessful ones began to translate their fate as starving artists into engaging tales.
Lately, however, it's all gotten a bit too much, with every other up-and-comer pestering the world about how badly he wants rap success. Skipp Whitman too ponders "how to make a living only from makin' songs," but he does it with so much feeling and flair that it's impossible to lump him with all these kids expecting fame to be handed to them on a silver platter, not with inspiring lines like "A pipe dream is keepin' me up so I may as well / hop to it - and maybe we sell."
It helps that musically "5AM" is absolutely up to date, Whitman infusing his tracks with pop and electronica influences and not shying away from singing hooks. With a relaxed tone and delivery somewhere between Defari and Wiz Khalifa, he contemplates his situation over studied, solemn compositions, substituting fabricated rap swag with genuine hip-hop attitude ("I arm myself with a force field / It feels natural, while MC's got that forced feel"). He touches on topics that should be familiar to anybody pursuing a long-term goal: paying bills, maintaining relationships, handling criticism, being creative, overcoming stereotypes. Although he focuses almost exclusively on himself, he does widen the scope on "Dreams," where he involves listeners who fight a similar uphill battle:
"Long nights, late sessions
Big dreams of - I give you 3 guesses
But you probably only need one...
I'm on the train with my iPod on
And everyone's in my video, look at 'em yawn
You're probably goin' to work thinkin' about gettin' off
This is dedicated to sittin' around actin' like you're doin' your job
But when the paycheck finally comes you feel like you been robbed
This is dedicated to the burners, the all-night servers
the night-class-tryina-get-a-better-job learners
the long-ass-day-minimum-wage earners
the All-Star Scholarship-gettin'-further
This is dedicated to all the burglars
the in-the-corner earners
the out-of-order jurors
jewelry sellers cuttin' them diamonds up before the purchase
the home-now-the-still-fightin' - we all workers"
Despite the entire album revolving around the same subject, some songs stand out for their structure. "I Won't Change" connects his current mindstate with his teenage years, "When I Let Go" stresses the importance of an open mind when creating and performing, "It Sucks Being Broke" ends each verse on a lighter punchline note ("I'm tryina eat better but do you have any idea how rich you gotta be to be a vegan and shit?"), while the "Lose Yourself"-inspired "Spend it All" serves as a metaphor for taking risks. An interesting feature is that he also takes hypothethical looks back from the finish line ("Her," "Outro"). But nowhere do Skipp Whitman's dedication and desires converge more beautifully than on "The Upgrade," an uplifting duet with singer Louie Bello reminiscent of Toussaint Morrison that cries out for single status.
As a snapshot of Skipp Whitman's momentary situation, "5AM" is a musically classy, lyrically honest portrait of the struggling artist. The next time around, however, he is advised to channel his well-rounded craftmanship into songs that discuss other things than his career.
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: November 20th, 2012