There can’t be many Canibus fans left in the world, or at least there shouldn’t be given how frustrating an artist he is. One minute he’s an unstoppable emcee on the brink of something special; the next he’s steering his career off of a bridge. Those of us that still remember the late 1990s will recall a time where Canibus was the next big thing in Hip-Hop, partnering with The Fugees’ Wyclef to release what should have been many lyrical classics. Despite his buzz, Canibus didn’t deliver and struggled to keep a buzz after he lost a war of words with L.L. Cool J and managed to release an average album that had Pharoahe Monch and Rakim on it in “2000 B.C.”
It wasn’t until 2003’s “Rip the Jacker” that Canibus became a hot commodity again, also laying down one of the verses of the year on Jedi Mind Tricks’ track “Tibetan Black Magicians”. Yet, there weren’t any more records produced by Stoupe, and Canibus started to slip back in to the underground again, despite some worthy efforts (2005’s “Hip-Hop For $ale” and 2007’s “For Whom the Beat Tolls”).
Then there was 2010’s “Melatonin Magick” which was probably his best work since “Rip the Jacker”, but it showed an embarrassing side of Canibus that many thought had finally disappeared – his tendency to diss artists for no need. This time it was Eminem, with a track that actually saw him collaborate with D12 and twist the song so that it became an Eminem diss that featured D12.
Fortunately (and unfortunately) for Canibus’ career, it went largely unnoticed by both Eminem and the Hip-Hop community in general. Then in 2012, came the infamous notepad scene with veteran battler Dizaster, that saw high-profile artists such as Busta Rhymes struggling to defend the incident where Canibus pulled out pages of written rhymes.
A big problem that Canibus has had on his albums is an inability to acquire consistently strong production. Admittedly, 2010’s “Melatonin Magick” and 2011’s “Lyrical Law” saw Bis rectifying the underwhelming production of his earlier efforts, but seeing Bronze Nazareth’s name on this album filled me with hope, particularly after enjoying last year’s “The Living Daylights” record that Bronze put out with street spitter Willie the Kid. For the most part, Bronze delivers and it’s the few tracks not produced by Bronze that show the different level he is at to the likes of Skammadix and Samurdyas.
The ludicrously titled “Time Flys, Life Dies… Phoenix Rise” has been well received by fans of underground Hip-Hop, and it’s not hard to see why. Bronze’s hard drums and mystical RZA-in-HD style of sampling helps make this one of Bis’ more digestible records, but isn’t without its flaws. “Canibus Autobiography (Part 01)” is the type of introspective story-telling that Bis usually reserves for fictional tales of sci-fi that require him to namedrop sections of the Periodic table. Here however, Canibus talks about his career, and it’s something he doesn’t tend to tap into, at least on a personal, heartfelt level. It’s only boosted by the nostalgic instrumental that raises the question of what would have happened if Canibus had Wu-Tang style production earlier in his career?
The best beat is the brutal “Battle Buddies 4 Life”, a slamming Bronze production that sees Canibus invite his foe Dizaster along for to spit bars. The very same Dizaster who embarrassed him in front of thousands. It’s an admirable offer, and while the track is less about the two being chums, and more about endless boasting, it’s a worthwhile addition to any gym playlist. It’s only right that a Rocky sample is used to tie together the sheer insanity of it all. Pete Rock lays down a verse on “Concourse P” which sees Bronze providing a beat not too dissimilar to something the Chocolate Boy Wonder would have made himself. Canibus is guilty of going off on a wild tangent about travelling in various modes of transport, but hey, that’s part of the appeal.
Where the album fails to match the likes of “Melatonin Magick” and particularly “Rip the Jacker”, is the reliance on predictable elements that appear to tick certain boxes for Canibus fans. There’s an obligatory Killah Priest collaboration called “Bronze Horses” that isn’t anything different to what we’ve heard from the two emcees before. Bis’ verses on “Battle Buddies 4 Life” are almost TOO complex to decipher and “Seismoluminescence” is as confusing as the title suggests. Unfortunately moments like these are too frequent to make this an album worth spinning more than a couple times.
Canibus could drop another ten disappointing albums and still have a fan-base adamant that he is the hottest rapper in the game, because nobody is doing Hip-Hop as equally intense and complicated. Half of the lyrics he’s dispersing could be perceived as nonsense and I can’t argue with that, but there’s always been that delicate balance of genius and gibberish from Canibus – it’s part of the appeal. “Igloo Music” even has a hook of “Fully articulated, skeletal non-human remains, it’s obvious I make music in a cave”. He’s certainly a frustrating artist in terms of consistency – last year’s “Fait Accompli” was so overloaded with dialogue and movie snippets that it almost undid the last few years albums. Despite this, nobody is as visceral and precise with their vocabulary, and I’m sure Bis has resigned himself to the fact that he’s not going to be cracking any type of radio chart. Bronze does his thing here, but I can’t help feeling disappointed that this album could have been so much more, both musically and lyrically.