Cno Evil has been around the music industry for a while now as one half of The Rodentz (with Li-Mouse). Though we haven’t reviewed their work before today I can trace it at least as far back as 2005 through various websites. Reviewing one of their albums is overdue but as there are none available to me right now we’ll start with “The Hiatus.” Cno has dropped a song off of it here or there but the title turns out to be apt as it seemed like there was a hiatus between The Rodentz as a group and Cno as a soloist.
“The Hiatus” starts off with computer voice narration that sounds like a cross between your iPhone and the evil Portal AI GLaDOS. From that point on it becomes clear why the bio accompanying this album says Cno is “inspired by the likes of the Wu-Tang Clan,” and in fact he’s done some production for Brooklyn Zu (credited) and Wu-Tang Clan (uncredited). Even though his friend Li-Mouse is all over this album as a guest star, the only track he produced on this album is “Off Rode Challenge (Stompin’ Faces)” – and he doesn’t rap on it – it’s all Cno on this one:
“Leaky like faucets keep dropping in sink
Horrible bosses make you take a drink
Can’t swim when you think so just drown in your sorrows
Climbing your feats like it’s Kilimanjaro
Toro toro, so bring me that bullshit
I got my letter jacket, my fedora and my bullwhip
Raiders of the Lost Ark, I make art, don’t make me start
I can break down the state of hip-hop with just a pie chat”
The beat’s bombastic enough to carry the track, but there’s a problem with the mixing. Cno’s vocals distort any way I choose to play this song – laptop, headphones, or stereo speakers. Given the beat is polished it’s an uncomfortable incongruity to deal with. It’s a problem that crops up in varying degrees throughout the album – acceptable production and poorly mixed vocals. On songs where he doesn’t distort like “Smoke Cloud” (also featuring Bolo, Petey Wonka, Li-Mouse and Graveyard Shifter) the music is turned so far down it becomes more ghostly and apparition-like than I think he actually intended.
Cno is a pro wrestling fan and his enthusiasm comes through on songs like “Jimmy Snuka” and the perhaps poorly timed “Pipe Bomb.” Make no mistake it’s one of the better songs of the entire album, but the wrestler who inspired it walked out on WWE earlier this year and hasn’t come back. The “One Inch Punch” bonus track is also interesting because it follows the same formula Random used successfully on “Black Materia.” It’s also the best mixed song of the CD, which makes me wish Cno had done some more video game beat raps.
Here’s the point in the review where I have to be harsh. The bar is set a little higher than what “The Hiatus” is capable of delivering, due to the fact Cno has actual production credits on Wu-affiliated albums. The Wu broke through in the music industry by using RZA’s unconventional recording techniques to great success, but even their “mistakes” in the studio still came out polished no matter how rugged the beats and rhymes. Cno’s not making intentional mistakes and giving them a shine, he’s releasing tracks that didn’t get the polish they need – and I’ll be damned if I know why. The quality of the flow and lyrics changes greatly throughout the album. Even songs like “Not Good Enough” which have all the right elements unintentionally live up to the title by lacking the mastering that would have made for a hit. Not everybody is built to rap and produce at the same time – some artists are only at their best when they can focus on just one thing. He may take it personal like GangStarr but I’d encourage Cno Evil to do one or the other and not both at once. He’ll make a better album if he raps and someone else produces or if he does the production and really takes the time to get it right.