Compilations are a good thing – take 13 or 14 artists’ best songs, and you’re bound to have something one quarter listenable. And from what I’ve heard of the rappers’ other work, “Bomb Hip Hop Compilation, Vol. 2” – a Bay Area showcase dating back, it seems, to at least a year ago – is a good selection: a lot of variety, styles, and excellent production. In a couple of cases, the material is genuinely exceptional, a feat, perhaps, since no one on the album is a genuine lyricist. If little else, some of these artists really know how to craft a song, a sum more important than its individual weaknesses.
Perhaps this does not apply to Million Bucks, a duo of Conceit and Boac that opens up the album with “Official Knock.” In brief, it is typical of the work here: less interesting “classic”-flavored rap, as opposed to the superior progressive material – it’s hard to pull off a good “golden era” style, since rappers don’t always mix styles very well, either innovating too little or overmuch. It’s always a danger:
“Big boys of the ye-yeh, we back to work
a Million Bucks, bang cuts, mic-clutchin’ berserk
the top-notch, never less than uno
sippin’ pruno, keep crews collapsin’
I can’t detect much of anything above. It’s completely forgettable, partly because there’s no innovation here. The production does not help, either – mostly a relentlessly squeaky keyboard, and a drum that obsequiously runs along the opaque metronome. On the plus side, they both have excellent voices, and good flows, as well as obvious technical competence: emphatic intonations, varying rhymes and line length, and so on, but missing a few critical points.
Celsius 7 offers “Manners,” a conceptually good track, but banal. In fact, I can imagine a potentially great rap song with some of this material – a sarcastic look at folks’ annoying habits, which can be both funny and, believe it or not, intellectually substantive, at least in its own way. Instead:
“Now when you cough or sneeze
put your hand on your mouth so I don’t catch a disease
and when you in public, and you on your cell phone
use your inside voice, you ain’t all alone”
Again, nothing memorable: no wit, no real humor, just a perfunctory tightening up of loose ends. Musically, it’s driven by one of those “comical” keyboards – high-pitched, from low to high key, and, for it – quite unsurprising. It’s not very well-performed either, as it lacks any subtlety in its aggressive and rather simple attack on “bad manners.” Again, mismatched potential. Compare to “Disneyland” by Rec League All-Stars, one of the best-performed songs on the album and the first highlight. All-stars, indeed – wildly different voices, all strong, all confident, as posse tracks are meant to be. As elsewhere, the writing is off, but at times solid:
“I got so many trophies in my cupboard son
even got a trophy with a dude on top
holding another one”
– and, this time, its marginalia does not distract. Different songs, like all art, have different needs, strengths and considerations to judge by – this is not a pretext for laziness, but a recognition that artistic success has many routes, as well as levels, and subtle failures. For example, the track seems to end perfectly, with a gruff, strange voice offering a climactic close, full of quick, end-stop rhymes – even if you consider the track’s variety of talent, this is still a surprise, but.. alas, it’s too brief, and even has an unnecessary, anti-climactic follow-up by another verse. Sure, it’s “inclusive,” but artistically off. It’s the latter that counts.
Kalri$$ian’s “Lobby Room” is by far the best thing on the album, and one of the best songs I’ve heard in a while. It is “progressive” hip-hop, in all of its implications: strange production, druggy flows, and style and atmosphere over visible substance – meaning, there is much underneath it all, a lot to unpack. “Magic” strings, an understated piano, a crumbling flute, all slow – and the voices? Keylo Venezuela is intentionally nasal, puffy, and completely melts into the music, while Tony Highrise is a sober, confident counterpart. They perform well – in fact, they perform brilliantly, full of humor and bright sarcastic touches. It’s hard to call it a club song, despite its content – it’s warped, jokesy, and, interestingly, although these artists are mostly having fun, they’re making better ART than most on the album, if not for lyrics:
“I guess that you could say, that I done learned real young
that life is easy when you sleazy, got wits, and well hung
slam dunk society, because it’s all bullshit
go to school, get robotized, while they get rich
fuck that, commercial time is the plan that I got
use my body up in its prime while I’m still lookin’ hot”
– then at least for an impressive sum.
Ignoring the above, although latter half of the album is better produced, it is, except for a few tracks (Grip Grand’s very good “I Chose Rap,” as well as The Shotgun Wedding Quintet’s “We Take It Back,” Gas Mask Colony’s “The Air We Breathe”), otherwise forgettable, until the very end. And thus it closes with Dirt Nasty’s “1980,” driven by an aggressive (but unimpressive – why don’t artists actually do something with these ideas?!), which crawls side-by-side with an electronic whistle and Dirt’s yells:
“I got a gold chain
I’m on cocaine
I’m like, ‘yo mayne'”
It’s a parody, but you’ll never know it – and although it’s sexually ambiguous, you can’t tell Dirt Nasty is actually a former gay porn star, who, despite his race, happens to be convincing in his ebonics. It’s not over the top, but subdued, which is why it works so well as a parody. But, the clues:
“I shine like Morrissey
on Christmas Eve (no!)
naw, I’m more like Morris Day
on Hella Yay
dressin’ gay (ding!)”
– and thus, “1980” is not an arbitrary title.
In his video, Dirt Nasty starts off with some intentionally banal abstract rap – you know, no flow, empty vocabulary, no ideas, and so on. It’s ironic, and especially poignant in the face of his accomplishment here – “1980” lyrically memorable, despite being one of the most deceptively simple songs I’ve heard in a while. And that’s more than I can say about some of the “serious” material on this compilation.