I was having a conversation with one of my friends today, just before he got on a plane to do an international concert. He is an already famous up-and-coming rapper, who has yet to release his debut. And it has been a while coming. The point we ended up fixating on was whether it was better to have waited, or should he have pushed out his product a few years ago, even if he wasn’t as good as he is now. It is an interesting point – and we settled on a slightly fence-sitting answer, which you can find out nearer the end of this review of Cale Sampson’s self-titled debut album.
Sampson, a Canadian MC hailing from Toronto, has been gradually building up his rep on the underground scene in his homeland – mainly through live performances and a few carefully selected singles. What with the hype and buzz that permeates through the release, it is a welcome surprise that when you actually cop the physical release of the LP, you’ll find “The Album” itself on the first disc, and “The Demo” on a second CD. It is a nice touch, and in pure value-for-money terms doubles the fun.
It must be said, however, that this is a somewhat strange experience. Having listened to the Album two or three times, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed, especially due to the promising set-up. To make things simple, almost everything is in place to make Cale Sampson a very good artist. He has the voice, decent choruses, and strong lyrics. The music, provided by a bevy of excellent Canadian producers, takes a while to grow, but grow it will. The problem? His flow – it just isn’t quite there yet, and sounds like a real rookie’s flow at times, whilst sounding more polished a touch more sporadically. It really hammers home the importance of “flow” as more than just a wishy-washy concept – it you ain’t got flow, it just won’t sound right. But then I listened to The Demo disc.
The Demo disc contains ten full songs, and is, to all intents and purposes, an album in its own right. It also happens to be, initially at least, more impressive than the real Album. Tracks like “Potential” find Cale spitting excellent lyrics with IMPECCABLE flow. There is the clever gimmick of “C-A-L-E” where he uses words starting with just those four letters. Even if the flow on “The Facts of War” isn’t perfect, it is still a formidable deconstruction of the Bush administration, and even the completely manipulative “1994 to 96” is awesome – where he cleverly intertwines lyrics and titles of tracks from the second golden age of hip hop.
Then, I listened to the Album again with a fresh pair of ears – it was now put into context, and it certainly improved. Songs like “Fed Up” and “Never Had A Choice” sounded better on the second listen – as does the Album as a whole. Yet, something like “The Human Genome Project” seemed like a pale imitation of “The Facts of War,” and the clever sample of “‘Til I Met You” is a wasted opportunity, as the song has very little effect. As for Cale’s flow, it is still very patchy and when taken as a whole, it almost feels as though this is a tightly focused debut and a patchier sophomore rolled into one. If this sounds like a damning verdict, it shouldn’t – this is his debut album, and it is still a promising foundation on which to build.
Which brings us back to the original point – should Cale Sampson have waited a while to release his debut, or did he make the right decision in pushing out his product now? There may be no uniform “correct” answer, but there is only one way to truly tell – to see what his next move is. If he regularly releases albums, continues to grow in confidence and skill, gets hotter beats year on year, then he definitely made the right choice. If, however, this is it for a good while, and he doesn’t learn from the whole debut experience, he should’ve waited. The feeling one gets is that he will progress nicely and develop into one of Canada’s finest, and that his self-titled debut will provide a useful marker in the years to come.