Never let it be said that the RapReviews staff can’t eat a little humble pie when we’re proved wrong. I first reviewed The Official Hip-Hop Trading Cards two weeks ago, and in the review I questioned who in the blue fuck Caktuz..?13 was when I got his card out of the pack. Apparently C13 had his Google on that day, because he hit us back faster than a speeding bullet with more power than a locomotive just to say “YO! Cak Tree is for REAL!” He sent us a full bio of his achievments, accomplishments and community activism we dutifully published HERE. If you don’t want to read the whole thing I’ll summarize it for you – he wrote a book about AIDS awareness for urban youth, he’s recorded with everyone from Brand Nubian to M.O.P., he’s designed clothing for Spike Lee and Queen Latifah, and he’s graced a Broadway stage with Melvin Van Peebles. In short Caktuz Tree..?13 is an amazing man…
… which makes it even MORE amazing that nobody at RR had heard of him before! With that resume, Cak 13 ought to be as big as Jay-Z, Nas or Ice Cube – maybe all three at the same time.
Let’s move on from that oversight. While there’s not enough time or space in this review to research and confirm each one of his amazing accomplishments, listening to Cak’s album “Caktuz Tree..?13 Winz Too” confirms at least one part of his bio is straight legit – he has indeed recorded with M.O.P. and Brand Nubian. You can hear both on the “Get Rich Treemix,” the latter being represented by Sadat X, while both members of Mash Out make appearances. Cak 13 has quite a few recognizable names on his album – peoples who deserve hip-hop trading cards in their own right. A short list of notable cameos includes Rock from Helter Skeltah on “Hellz Kitchen,” M1 from dead prez on “I Got Tha Blood,” Kardinal Offishall on “Graveyard Shift” and ‘Omar’ Williams on “Thugged Out Production.” Okay, maybe the last one is a stretch, but I’d put Omar from “The Wire” in a set of hip-hop trading cards if I was the one designing the lineup. I’d also put Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc in the set but that’s neither here nor there – this is all about the amazing Caktuz Tree..?13.
There are a few more amazing things about “Caktuz Tree..?13 Winz Too.” Quite frankly it’s amazing how mediocre the song “Drigh” is and how anonymous the Xclusive Generals are on it. You probably guessed already that drigh is their slang for being drunk & high at the same time. I hope that doesn’t catch on. If you tuned in late and didn’t know the song title you’d be confused as fuck when the Generals rap that they’re “drier than a muh’fucker,” thinking these poor brothers in North Cakalaka don’t have any running water. There are no production notes with this release, so I don’t know who to blame for the mediocre alternating two-tone melody. The flute sample during the chorus helps, but not enough. “Luvyn U” has Cak 13 stringing together disjointed thoughts, sometimes leaving punchlines hanging together for no reason, putting pop culture references from “Stairway to Heaven” to “Black Snake Moan” together almost at random. It’s also amazing to hear Cak 13 speak patois on “Sha Up N Yokar” (shot up in your car) featuring Cavalier, then suddenly bust into an impression of Joan Osborne. On both accounts, OUCH. I’m amazed he didn’t cut this song from the album – it’s only 2:43 long anyway.
Quite frankly I’m torn when reviewing “Caktuz Tree..?13 Winz Too.” I honestly think part of my objection to Caktuz as an artist is simply that name. To be sure it stands out from a crowded field of guys who are “Lil'” this and “Big” that and “Young” whatever and I’m even willing to bet it looks great sprayed on a wall with some dripping aerosol. As something that rolls off the tongue when naming your favorite rappers, it’s a total fail. It’s too long, too complicated, too off the wall. Being original doesn’t always mean being better. To be sure Caktuz is an original, and he’s also a little TOO versatile for his own good. Look at all the irons he’s got in the fire – fashion design, ripping the mic, empowering disenfranchised youth, rocking the stage on Broadway – man this dude can’t POSSIBLY keep up with all the shit that he’s doing. Even Diddy has a whole army of people to run his Bad Boy empire of music and merchandise. You don’t think Sean Combs is personally bottling the Ciroc, or sewing the lapels onto the Sean John shirts, or cooking the food at Justin’s do you? I hope Caktuz has a team of people to help out.
As a vocalist Caktuz has potential. I imagine Caktuz is what Nelly would sound like if he grew up in NC. Cak’s musical and lyrical style lacks focus though. His album goes from Sadat X to the Xclusive Generals to ‘Omar’ Williams – that says it all – he’s all over the place. Even the promo copy of the album seems confused – half full songs, half snippets, and two or three tracks that don’t even seem to be from “Winz Too” at all. Caktuz may in fact be a big deal and be worthy of being on an official hip-hop trading card, but as an official hip-hop artist he’s not making the full impact he COULD be. I applaud the activism, the entrepreneurial spirit, the self-empowerment and the hustle – I just wish I could applaud the album too.