A few months after North Carolina emcee Supastition returned with his most honest album yet, “Every Last Word“, he’s back to show us all the “Art of Disrespect”. Age and status continue to be at the front of Supastition’s mind, but this time, the shackles are off. Hauling in producer Praise gives this project additional energy, transforming what could be interpreted as miserable dad raps into something slightly warmer. And Praise truly does treat your speakers (or headphones) disrespectfully. I had to pop my ears after repeated headphone sessions, something that is openly warned to the listener throughout the forty-minute run time.
The dedication to the cause runs through “Kings We Are”, as he boasts without the needle, nor invention, of his more directed attacks. And that’s where Supastition falls into old habits – bars for bars’ sake, something he openly derides. Yet, this hypocritical approach is quintessentially hip-hop. From rappers explicitly detailing their crimes, yet shouting out God and Allah in their album notes, or crafting the most technically precise rhymes while saying nothing of substance – this album revels in the conflicted nature of a rapper indulging in flexing his pen, while fighting back critics (such as his wife, colleagues and anyone younger). It’s the classic pushback against growth as a rapper known for his authenticity wrestles with rapping about driving a minivan.
What’s clear is Supastition struggles to come to terms with his position as a middle-aged rapper. It’s nothing new, but it’s a topic that’s preferable to hearing the umpteenth emcee in his forties hark on about drugs he sold two decades ago. In the past, these sincere types of lyrics were reserved for more serious-sounding instrumentals, whereas here Praise has come through with the bangers that provide the album with its real disrespectfulness. Some of these beats are plain mean. Doing the screwface, as an emcee explains why you’re “acting like the new Dyson gathering dirt” combines the familiar, yet satisfying release of energy through hurling abuse, with the knowledge of which vacuum cleaner gets the job done most effectively.
When I think of disrespect, I think of Sean Price. Of Suga Free. Of M.O.P.. These are artists that benefited by injecting a healthy dose of humor into their ignorance, and when Supastition applies this winning formula, the results are often excellent. There’s no doubt that “Sick & Tired” is the highlight of the album and I wish there was more of this. A savage analysis of his marriage, considering whether the grass is greener or if he’s just unaware of how blessed he truly is. Bemoaning the same meal every night, debating adultery, questioning his clothing choices. It’s the witty remarks that hit home because of their accuracy: “Sweet compliments become insults” is an astute observation many couples can relate to. We’ve all been there. Yet, without leaning on an old-fashioned term, Supastition makes it sound ‘fresh’ in a genre drowning in tired gangsta narratives, money-obsessed misogynists, and videos where rappers are still renting cars and pretending to own them. Praise providing a piano piece that plods like the relationship he’s describing is the icing on the
wedding cake. It’s one thing to whinge about this well-worn imagery, and another thing entirely to address it creatively. In that respect, Supastition sticks the landing – it’s when he falls back on his own overly familiar approach that “Art of Disrespect” threatens to underwhelm.
The juxtaposition of Supastition’s status is frequently discussed but, much like bullies in real life, you start to sympathize with their situation. Attacking modern hip-hop, criticizing trap rappers, and attempting to revise those very rappers’ tired themes on “In Other Words” is a great concept, but falls short in execution thanks to bars that don’t quite live up to the hype. Supastition’s strength has always been his flow, and his ear for strong production. Nearly all of the rhyme references here are from the eighties, meaning this album could have been released in 2023, or 2003. Punchlines sometimes stray from dad joke to corny (“I’m sending nicotine patches to rappers because they don’t want no smoke”), but in hip-hop’s 50th year, it’s understandably difficult to tackle similes and metaphors without sounding a little heavy-handed.
“Art of Disrespect” is an album I’ve grown to feel conflicted over, myself. Throughout, we hear conflicting stances within the conflict-like verbal attacks. The rapper makes unashamedly underground hip-hop yet remains disgruntled about not being popular. Ignorance and disrespect are aimed at rappers for being ignorant and disrespectful. So while “Art of Disrespect” is littered with irony, you can’t deny the craftsmanship of it all. Both beats and rhymes carry a hefty thump, the same punch a bully packs. Speaker Bullies is an apt name, and it’s good to hear Supastition flexing his creative muscles with themes that lend the music some added depth, but the best material from Supastition this year has been his observational pieces. I get that the pull of young Supastition is hard to shake off; it’s what made him the man he is today, but by providing themes tackled in an interesting, humorous, and innovative fashion, Supastition shows he’s capable of making art that’s not just disrespectful, but respectable too.