Chicago-based hip-hop artists Qwel and Meaty Ogre reunite on Freezerburner, the second installment of Qwel’s “four seasons” album cycle. The Harvest, released in 2004, focused on the fall; this time, it’s the winter. Though the project is ambitious in its scope, the album suffers from unimaginative execution. Producer Meaty Orge churns out sixteen ominous soundscapes that rely heavily on fuzzy guitar samples with jazz and gospel embellishments. Ogre clearly has some skills, but his beats lack variety. On vocals, Qwel scarcely varies his flow, delivering one monotonous verse after another. But that the album doesn’t distinguish itself stylistically isn’t its biggest flaw.
Freezerburner emphasizes substance over style. And, unfortunately, the substance is severely lacking. Qwel’s lyrics focus on spiritual matters, particularly his own Christian faith. Consider this lyric from “High Tithe”: “It seems nowadays everybody can speak they mind except Christians, but we ain’t welcome in your schools so now your schools turn into prisons.” Really? I think even the most rudimentary analysis of American culture and politics would reveal that Christians speak their mind plenty. Similar themes can be found on “MachineGun Monkey”: “Ain’t seen a monkey turn to man, but I seen a man turn to monkey … Teachers lying in your schools, while we’re taught that we monkeys.” Yes, this is a dis track aimed at those who espouse the theory of evolution. I thought we had worked through this issue during the Scopes Trial, but I guess not. You gotta give Qwel credit, though: Few emcees have the balls to fire up a beef with middle school science teachers. (On the low, I heard they were the ones who took down Biggie.)
On Freezerburner, Qwel criticizes rappers who claim to be Christians but only rap about trivial subjects such as drinking, partying and blunts. But there’s a reason people rap about these subjects: They’re entertaining. Qwel wants to rap about God and faith and how he’s more Christian than his peers. That takes guts. But the impetus is on him to make us give a damn. If he can’t manage that then maybe he should stick to rhyming “bitches” with “switches” like all the infidels. Because the only thing worse than crass, stupid hip-hop is boring hip-hop. And the only thing worse than boring hip-hop is boring, self-righteous hip-hop. Despite his lofty ambitions, Qwel simply doesn’t have the chops to justify his relentlessly sanctimonious attitude.
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