Has there been a more respectable build-up to a hip-hop debut? Pay your hometown dues, scorch a white boy before he becomes the biggest — and best — rapper in the game, then go on to help pen one of the greatest songs of the last ten, maybe fifteen, years. The icing on this cake is Rhymefest’s magnificent major-label debut, a tour de force of working-class hood music, a victory for the new reality rap. ‘Fest manages to avoid cornball optimism without coming off like a whiny, bitching rap-nerd who can’t find a place to store his own baggage. How? With a ridiculous inventory of ping-pong punch lines, bright, crackling production, and an eerily comfortable presence behind the mike. Plus attitude. Lots of attitude.
‘Fest might be foremost ballsy. But there’s a hidden confidence at work. What the songs lack in originality — “Fever” borrows from the famed Peggy Lee tune; “Stick” flat-out apes “Peter Piper” — they more than make up for in innovation and, as a result, irresistible charisma. “Fever” goes in other places: big, Latin-sounding, summertime drums; the throaty “hot like hot sauce” chorus echoing addictively with cult-like alliteration. “Stick” is another one, the “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” sample creatively bankrupt until producer Animal House drops a snap breakdown, and ‘Fest, he’s just ripping it the whole time.
“Devil’s Pie,” the holy-shit Strokes thievery, transforms “Someday” into a fire-hydrant-springing Spike Lee soundtrack, wherein the upbeat tempo plays host to real-talk lyrics such as these: “Somebody passed a couple of gangs the glocks/ Politicians and crooked cops/ Sprinkle poverty on top/ Voila!/ Couldn’t be faster/ Recipe for disaster/ Gun shots is the devil’s laughter.” Too much? ‘Fest tones it down to bust on Mr. West: “Askin’ Kanye for money/ Just to pay all my gas bill/ He asked me for it back/ Nigga, brush up on your math skills/ Nothin’ plus zip equals zero/ He couldn’t relate/ That nigga ain’t been broke since ‘H to the Izzo’.”
Even “Build Me Up,” an excruciating misstep that pairs Rhymefest with an off-key O.D.B. — who died two years ago, right? — for a reworking of “Build Me Up Buttercup,” doesn’t sound nearly as bad as it should, thanks to playful verses and Mark Ronson’s borrowing of the beat and piano line from OutKast’s “The Whole World.”
What’s most refreshing, though, is that this is Rhymefest’s moment, and none of the contributions get in the way of that, nor do they make him into something he’s not. Not those of Kanye West, who appears on two tracks and produces one (the great lead single, “Brand New”; the even better, Cool & Dre-crafted “More”). Not Just Blaze, who supplies the stadium-stomp of “Dynomite (Going Postal).” Not even Rhymefest himself, who acknowledges his own contradictions throughout the album but doesn’t stop trying to straighten them out. At the beginning of “Tell a Story,” he says: “This is your life. You got ups and you got downs. We all go through the same thing on different days. Don’t act like you ain’t like me.” Blue Collar is a reason to be ourselves, warts and all.
Label: http://allidorecords.com/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/rhymefest