I was 9 minutes into Fortunato’s new album when I actually took notice for the first time. There was Madchild rapping, “Back when I was young I was a wacko and a action junkie / Now I need a chiropractor and some acupuncture”. Admittedly a cheap shot at his veteran rapper self, but still the first noteworthy moment late into the third track.
When one leaves the cursory listening behind to dutifully devote oneself to what rappers say in detail, the pendulum can swing either way – you notice new attributes that can make the music appear in a more favorable light, or upon closer inspection specific negatives begin to appear that before you only perceived as the absence of positives. In a fair setting, these observations are not mutually exclusive but each contribute to a comprehensive perspective.
Redman once said, “Press rewind if I haven’t blown your mind”, so I did just that to allow Fortunato to reintroduce himself. And indeed “Made it Real” turns out to be a convincing presentation of an artist who has the privilege to let you know that he’s already realized his dream. Rhyming is his thing, which is still something that elicits good emotions around here:
“I ain’t gettin’ stuck prayin’ for some better luck
Bettin’ on some horses, so of course you never level up
Debt to settle up, better keep that metal tucked
Before you sittin’ on a corner beggin’ with a metal cup”
Thematically, the following “Prove Them Wrong” seems like an unnecessary reiteration of the opener, then. Unfortunately, this appears to be Fortunato’s approach in general. Save for “Made it Real” and “Dead in the Streets”, the hooks can’t be distinguished from the bars. Rhymes drag on until they become imperfect. The Toronto native’s tale never leaves the confines of ‘I’ve had it hard but I made it, so don’t doubt me’ and its narrator doesn’t seem to know how to fall back on humor. The rapper’s press department talks about ‘a deeply personal album that focuses on Fortunato’s depth of experience in the Hip Hop game, and specifically how it has affected his life’. Granted, the chorus for the aforementioned “Dead in the Streets” is as substantial as it is serious:
“Rap’s the only reason I ain’t lyin’ dead in the street
I had no reason to compete, my mind was feeble and weak
Till I finally picked up the pen and put my words on a sheet
Now I got friends in every city and my life is complete”
On the rest of the LP, whether he’s presenting himself as a formerly starving or as a currently successful artist, ‘Nato doesn’t really come to life in full dimensionality. People slam Drake for being inappropriately personal, emotionally transgressive or whatever, but is the alternative an artist who confides rather unspecifically that he’s “facin’ all these demons” or “standin’ at the precipice / My life is always on the line, I’m walkin’ on the edge of it”? As a finale, the scolding “What I Got to Say” would be much more effective if it was a standalone statement and not a summarization of “MDCXVII”. In any event, that what we have here could really be “the last of the true MC’s” (“Magnificent”) would be a colosally false assumption.
Professional production could gloss over these shortcomings. Yet Scopic, who has a 2015 EP with Onyx under his belt, serves Fortunato with some truly unremarkable beats. It’s not enough that tinny drums (barely) support “Dead in the Streets”, he also has to heap up an assortment of random metallic strings. The abrupt way the album begins is irritating enough, the vaguely melancholic melodic bits that follow are too underprocessed to achieve any effect. “Magnificent” is cobbled together from the most basic items in the sound library, and even when Scopic develops them slightly further, they fail to evoke emotions. When we all know that sometimes the simplest melodies can be the most touching or the most thrilling. For the discerning listener, there are a couple of bright spots amid the Snowgoons light production and the functional track fiddling. Contributing two beats, Kryple just about masters the phantom menace mood with “Prove Them Wrong”, thanks to some fresh drum programming. And Scopic’s “What I Got to Say” is a fresh breeze musically, almost an acknowledgement of the stale atmosphere that prevails before.
There was once a crop of resilient rappers who fell just far enough from the tree to carry on tradition and break new ground at the same time. The generation of Non Phixion and Jedi Mind Tricks, to give you an idea of who I have in mind here. Fortunato exists within that lineage, but if a rapper’s main argument is having overcome odds, it has to be said that there is no intrinsic artistic merit in accomplishing a career in the music biz. You have to give us a little more. Fortunato has been rapping for two decades, solo and with Angerville. If you know him, you know that he can give you more. Even as a standard spitter, he has qualities. A traditional DJ/producer could easily pick some good sounding lines from “Dead in the Streets” and integrate them into a track. Fortunato can put things straight, see for example “Tryina see past the ugliness but still spit that rugged shit” (from “No Time”). During the half an hour of “MDCXVII”, however, he’s just another run-of-the-mill Canadian boom bap battle rapper.