Jonah Bromwich thinks you’re not bi-polar, but more like Amy Poehler.
“Put in work, son.” “Do work, son.” These expressions have become ubiquitous mantras over the last few years. We say these things casually–to friends looking to score, to siblings with job interviews. They’ve become synonyms for “good luck.”
When you say things casually, they begin to lose meaning. They become terms of civility, rather than literal expressions. So it’s no surprise then that two of our greatest, and most comfortable MC’s have forgotten the meaning of work. After all, they’re rich, they’re lauded, they can say “do work” to each other before they step into the booth, and greet each other with pounds and bottles of ace of spades upon exiting. “All in a day’s work” doesn’t have to mean that they’ve exerted themselves, especially when they can get money to do their work for them.
Not so for rappers who still have something to prove–especially when they have enough ability to deserve significant stature. So if we here at Passion trumpet the artistic achievements of Nocando and Busdriver more frequently than other rappers, it’s because they’re the guys whose dedication to rapping is the clearest.
Their excellent new project, 10 Haters, warrants comparison to the bloated republican travesty that our rap overlords recently thrust upon us. It’s similar in all the superficial ways — a funhouse mirror version of what was supposed to be the biggest rap album of the year. We’ve still got one relatable personality and one a bit more outside the box, rapping together over tracks provided by a production bullpen that, talent-wise, equates with that ridiculous Red Sox roster from 2004. But the in-your-face difference, is the clear amount of thought, time, and effort (work) that went into 10 Haters.
The song comparisons are a music writer’s wet dream (disgusting, I know). Let’s start with the most direct analogue, second track “Beat my Bitch.” It’s not a misogynistic attempt to co-opt the plight of the African-American female, nor is it the Odd Future claptrap that you might expect from the title. The title is a pun about making the beat one’s bitch, i.e. rapping well, which is what the duo proceed to do. Along the way they shout out “hard-working American factory labor” and point out that they’re not famous or rich but “when I chop it up you know they can’t resist.” And, at the end of the track, after Busdriver wiles out acapella like Jigga did on track two of his last great LP, for those who take album covers and song titles seriously, they throw in a self-aware, sarcastic, screwed up, signature: “Misogyny’s cool: Flash Bang”
Self-awareness is a staple even when combined with the absurd boasting that regularly crops up. No rap fan has a problem with braggadocio (or they wouldn’t be rap fans), but, as many people have noted already, listening to long lists of expensive things is not particularly entertaining. Instead, why not make a song about your ability to teleport, complete with a fitting X-Men reference and an abject dismissal of the space-time continuum? Apparently, these guys are too fly to fly.
Clearly, they’re having fun. You can hear Nocando holding back his laughter on the chorus of “Bernie,” the kind-of hilarious concept song that wipes the board with the self-serious, poorly executed affairs you’ll find elsewhere. Astonishingly enough, this isn’t the first Weekend at Bernie’s dance craze attempt, but it’s funnier, more tongue-in-cheek and rapped ferociously.
Each song is well-executed, but if you’re looking for a pure rap clinic, look no further than the title track. The duo’s constant lyrical one-upmanship results in Busdriver claiming that his shit glows like yoda’s poop and that he looks like a soho douche in a polo suit before eviscerating a hater, calling him a fork-tongued amphibian and reminding him that his city is frail and his kidneys are failing. Nocando uses his verse to remind us that socks are inexpensive at the Slauson, rails against the word “bro” and rhymes Tony Danza with phony stanzas and makes it work.
The last track brings home the simplest problem with Watch the Throne, and the
crowning quality of 10 Haters: these guys are relatable, because they still have to work. They haven’t opted for plateau, because stasis doesn’t suit people who are still kinetic. When they get serious, they rap their hearts out about working hard, drinking hard and thinking hard, spitting the kind of ambitious, romantic rhymes that make people yearn for the beauty of struggling to make it, rather than having made it.
In the simplest terms possible, these beats are going to destroy your ear buds and eardrums, the verses are so good that I was tempted to just write out every song out in its entirety. Both of these guys can fast-rap like Busta in the Flipmode days or Twista with something to say. Hell, I didn’t even mention the great feature from Open Mike Eagle. So you should just go out and buy this thing already. Ignore the throne. Kings just sit there. Everybody knows the jesters are the ones to watch.