, Jae Millz
, Tru Life:
the cause of, the product of, or the cure for New York's declining relevance in rap music?
When a baseball team goes through a slump, the manager will usually shake things up, in hopes that a different lineup or positioning can provide the answer to all that ails the team. A new leadoff hitter may emerge, someone off the bench might find a starting job, or a strong left-hander could be moved in from the bullpen. You keep you perennial players in the spotlight, relying on them to add veteran leadership, and you send up the youth from the farm system to see what kind of spark they bring.
Suffering a multi-year slump themselves, the state of New York Hip-Hop has been on a steady decline. Jay-Z
still is everyone's favorite, and 50 Cent
can move records better than a fleet of U-Haul trucks, so those vets stay where they are, but the gods of NYC rap, these managers of mutli's, have been trying their best to produce a lineup capable of reclaiming the throne besieged by the likes of Houston
. One of the measures taken has been calling up the kids from the farm system, the mixtape and battle circuit, and testing their swing. Each of those aforementioned rappers (Cory Gunz . . .Tru Life) has been heralded, in some sense, as the answer, the key to putting New York back on top. But how real is it really?
Championed as The Second Coming
was part of a series of answers thrown by New York back at a G Thang West Coast
. With Wu-Tang
as a crew, Biggie
as a mythic Puffy-led charge, and dudes like Buckshot
, and OC
chiming in on the sides, Nas stood out. Now he didn't exactly blaze the market out the gate, but in recent years, when people have looked to match this new breed of New York up-and-comer with someone from the past, Nas, the 5-Mic
, blunted, solo, street poet, who flipped the script in a nine-song set, has been the go-to comparison. They're looking for someone to put out a debut that comes from the dungeons of rap, someone to stand tall and atop the city blocks and bring the crown back. However, try as they might to recreate the same taste that took up a whole coast, Cory Gunz, Jae Millz, Maino, Papoose, Saigon, and Tru Life are working off the wrong recipe.
All of these rappers have their promise based on a background of mixtapes and straight-to-the-corner videos. They are the bastard children of Big L's style
and 50 Cent's hustle
. Kay Slay
, Green Lantern
, Smack DVD
, these are their vehicles for exposure, their figurative booster chairs to grab a seat at the big kid's table. However, due to a deluge of mixtapes helmed by these rappers, a near flooding of the market, the mystery of and subsequent interest in the up-and-coming NY MC has been struck a blow. They are supposed to be the answer to the home team's slump, but, instead, because of the ubiquity of these mixtapes, especially before any proper album release, any response they represent has been saturated to the point of non-interest.
This notion of mystery is key. Mystery at least implies a personality to arouse curiosity. That curiosity spurs interest, which produces buzz for a rapper or their project, something tangible to grab a hold of. However, if MC Smack DVD has been on DJ 15 Minute's bi-monthly mixes, jumping over every new beat like Busta Rhymes
on speed and desert sand, redundancy replaces mystery, and who cares? They've shown all their cards already. (This is not to suggest that there aren't exceptions of a rapper, say a Lupe Fiasco
, putting out 2.5 mixtapes before a release date is ever announced and still maintaining a pulse, but Lupe's different in that he has a definable and multidimensional personality, he's something to watch. Jae Millz, Cory Gunz, these guys, they're gray suit rappers, stale in a sea of one-dimension. They grow tired quick.)
Nas' recipe was that mystery, he had buzz. This is what Papoose and Saigon, representing the rather dubious best of the lot of them, don't have. They may own some hype, but in the years they've been building it up, they've also jeopardized what could be a bit of their charm. MC Serch has spoken about Nas' left-field Jesus-snuffin' and how, afterwards, the QB
basically disappeared back into the jungle, only to be tracked down just in time for Back To The Grill
. Still, in the three years between the release of the Main Source LP
, you got only these two guest spots and a soundtrack feature
. What you didn't have was a half dozen of-the-moment remixes or see a line of DVDs or a catalog of TV appearances.
While I am perhaps more favorable towards Saigon, though mainly for the Just Blaze
association, Papoose is the perfect example of what I'm trying to explain. With some obscene double digit number of mixtapes
and all the screaming of a Drama King
on his side, Papoose has yet to even officially announce a label home for his debut album. Because of this, one must ask if a rapper like Papoose truly necessitates multiple mixtapes, let alone a dozen. If his most recent collection, A Threat and a Promise
, is any indication, that answer might not be so kind. By stringing along and up his listeners with a box full of these recorded odds and ends, not only is any mystery absent, but, in its place, no catching personality has emerged.
Papoose is bland, bereft of style, trapped by his own voice, the mouthpiece of a soldier and not a general. In between senseless posturing (beating up a cab drive is what's hood?) and cliché similes ("New Era like a fitted cap"), while admittedly some good lines and the occasionally clever subject do manage to creep in, Papoose is inevitably sabotaged by his own voice. The voice, the means to translate and articulate whatever's down on paper, is that unteachable talent that can make the mediocre get over, at least, or the promising perish. So despite sticking close to the creative concept behind Law Library
, Pap's voice, flanked by a flat line flow, paints the proceedings with a palette of plain, unconvincing and uninspiring. And don't even ask about hooks, because in those moments which often require the utmost of charisma, he just doesn't have it (How Many Shots
). Ultimately, Papoose is merely going through the motions of a tough guy, sounding indistinguishable from any other rapper with a low-brim bill and a reported arrest record. There's too much front and not enough swagger. There is no sense of entitlement. And even on a sad type song, for example, Flashback
, because his voice is so stilted and stiff, it comes off rather unremarkable, and borderline contrived.
However, Papoose has fans, and I won't try to argue that they're strictly lunching on some Kool-Aid
. Those times when he can prove better are when the beats are lively enough to mask some of his vocal shortcomings, and he's able to just ride the Curtis Mayfield horns on home, for example. With a sample from The Other Side of Town
and ushered along by Nas, Across the Tracks
manages to fare better than the norm. Nas himself actually doesn't come off too well. More a stanza than a full verse, while he still manages to provide some image-strong descriptions ("silver lady with the wings, she pop up, pretty wood interior"
), Nas' rich voice helps get over whatever lyrical inadequacies are present. On the other hand, Papoose would seem to have the better rap, but because he chooses to manipulate his voice by simply raising it a register, it's just a louder shade of monotonous. His verse reads better than it sounds.
Not coincidentally, this is the same dilemma Papoose meets with on the recent Touch It remix
, where his five finger / five borough breakdown is an on-paper success but a pronounced disappointment. I hate to keep harking on this one point, but if a rapper's voice is graced with no real style or character besides high and low, then it stands a failing means of transporting the music. Hip-Hop is based on the how
more so than the what
. It's not about what records you have, but how you freak the sample. It's not always about what you say, but how you say it. (And the best MCs can satisfy both the how
and the what
.) In the end, lacking any real depth, flair, or overall alluring quality, while Papoose isn't an utter failure by any stretch, I can't foresee a future where he plays a part in New York getting its stride back, getting its voice back.
Ferrari floors are cleanPapoose f/ Nas: Across the Tracks BONUS: Papoose: Alphabetical Slaughter BONUS: Curtis Mayfield: The Other Side of Town
Drawers are clean, what?
Verses, all my bars are mean