Earnestness can be a tricky thing. At times an emcee can so believe in his private mission that it makes the listener struggle and feel perhaps unworthy of the rapper’s strident efforts (e.g. some of Blackalicious‘s strenuous idealism). Other times, that earnestness and devotion to hip-hop can lead to indie rappers who complain about how real they are and how other cats aren’t true to hip-hop (there are too many damn examples to list).
Rarer yet, we can present the case of the rapper who neatly hits just the right tone, keeping it true to the promise of fun in hip-hop, but whose penchant for glibness undermines things on too many spots. Prozack Turner can be described as the lighter emcee of the Bay Area group Foreign Legion, in both skin color and weight — rhyming partner Marc Stretch has on occasion carried Prozack on his back in a sack onstage. If anyone has the right to complain about industry politics, he could; His debut, with production from J. Dilla, Pete Rock and Madlib, took a dirt nap when Dreamworks was put to sleep. So when Prozack jetted to Ireland to record Bangathon, you might expect a bitter collection of shots at the industry.
Prozack drops a few bars on the album mentioning label woes, but more typically he drops amusing gems such as the “Ballad of Adriana Sage.” His lyrical paean to a porn queen recalls the perverse loopiness of a vintage Kool Keith song, but one that’s less interested in sexual contortions than in her inner girl next door. The subtle disco funk of “Summertime in the Town” and a flute loop the Beatnuts would make love to on “Y’all ain’t Fussin’ With Us” both benefit from the extra presence of Mark Stretch. Prozack has an effortless if not exactly forcible sort of flow, enough to carry an album, with a casual B-boy spirit that’s accessible to all and with a few treats for Bay Area fans (describing one woman, for instance, as having a “walk colder than Candlestick”).
The solid production on most tracks only highlights the questionable risks on a few. Although the cheese feels just right on “Adriana Sage,” the jacked disco breakbeat on “Something in the Air” may come with indie irony but recalls Puffy at his larcenous worst. The title track does a disservice to everyone’s favorite SNL cowbell moment, coming with a metal banger that recalls Styles of Beyond’s Megadef, except for the quality of execution. The falsetto of “Alicia” may suggest a low-rent Funkadelic monologue, but the pitch-shifted vocal sample straight off a Cam’Ron track ruin any sublime goofiness the track might have intended.
Prozack’s humility and humor dominates the album, though. Oh No shows the chops that comes from being Madlib’s brother, putting in solid production work, especially on the driving “Stand Up” and the elegiac “I Wanna Go Home.” Chopping up harps and somehow making fuzzy synths sound organic under the track, Oh No matches up to some of Prozack’s best lyricism on the album. Sure, you’ve heard every rapper complain about life on the road, but somehow Prozack complaining about a security-guard pat-down by explaining that all he wants “to blow up is live shows” makes you feel for the guy. And as he talks about his fidelity to his girl back home, missing his mom’s meatloaf and cornbread, and sneaking in a couple jabs at the president, it’s hard not to take this as a normal guy rapping to you through the headphones. Cynicism never felt so unwarranted.