“Where do you want to start? I guess at the beginning somewhere. It was a crazy beginning.” – Rick Kirkham
For us the beginning is Chokeules’ “Hypergraphia” in 2009. After making a solid impression on me with his solo debut, the Toronto rapper went on to be one third of Canadian supergroup Swamp Thing, although the moniker “supergroup” needs a bit more explanation. The term connotes famous, big time artists coming together to be something bigger, like Royce Da 5’9″, Joell Ortiz, Joe Budden and Crooked I for Slaughterhouse, or Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, George Harrison and Roy Orbison forming the Traveling Wilburys. The result is supposed to be a combination of the adoration of their separate fandoms into a gigantic mass and a showering of critical acclaim for their collective output. Swamp Thing by and large has been well received but (there’s no subtle or nice way to put this) they weren’t giant stars before coming together and didn’t gain a gigantic following afterward.
It’s not surprising that “Nepotism” brings Chokeules, Timbuktu and Savilion together again for “In the Cut.” Like their previous collaborations it’s a solid affair that won’t offend rap fans who ache for a “real hip-hop” aesthetic that involves well written bars, flows that aren’t AutoTuned, head nodding production and a DJ scratching the turntables. That’s the conundrum of Chokeules though. The undeniable loyalty to that grimy underground sound ensures that the niche for his music is incredibly narrow, whether as a soloist or as part of a group. “Elon Musk can catch a bad one” quips Chokeules on “Eat the Rich,” opining that “billionaires are evil dicks” throughout the track. There’s no doubt this befits the “starving rap artist” persona but it also presumes the listener will know who Elon Musk is.
For better or worse this is why mainstream rappers “dumb it down” and talk about buying/selling/abusing drugs, promiscuous sex, and spending lots of money on expensive cars and clothes. They are tapping into a built in knowledge base accessible to the listeners who have already heard their other favorite rappers talk about the exact same things. In that same way Chokeules taps into MY knowledge base with Perfect Strangers and 1980’s NBA references on “Triple Double.” The good news for Chokeules is that there are enough people my age who will get it and appreciate it that he’ll move some units, but it won’t be the kind of units that Post Malone does.
That’s okay though. In life you make choices and you live with the outcomes. Over a decade ago when I first got wind of Chokeules it was clear he had already made his — I’m going to be an intellectual underground rap artist who will aim high and expect people to come up to my level rather than me going down to theirs. Those kind of choices are lonely and unrewarding in terms of mass appeal and financial gain, but they are equally admirable in that they represent “art for it’s own sake” and not for materialistic achievements. You have to strike a delicate balance between making art that sells enough to pay the bills but doesn’t sell out your values and beliefs in the process. Over the course of 14 tracks and 37 minutes, “Nepotism” makes Chokeules’ choice clear. This album isn’t meant for the masses, nor to move asses, but it’s meant for those who want artistic rap that doesn’t compromise on the beats or rhymes.