The year 2000 ushered in the era of the nonchalant rapper, leaving the extra exuberant Das EFX styles of the ’90s in its rapidly accumulating dust. These are the days of Jigga — I mean, Shawn Carter — and 50. Thanks to these two blinging princes, flippant proclamations of criminality, sex and lovelessness rule the airwaves and fans’ psyches. Far from schoolboys, these savvy businessmen have not only mastered adolescence and teendom, but also refashioned it and packaged it for sale to unsuspecting ’80s babies. So effective are these tastemakers at monopolizing our palettes that it’s damn near impossible for a lot of talented emcees to get their foot in the door.
DJ Danger Mouse kicked in the door waving his MPC with the Grey Album earlier this year, an artful mesh of Jay Z’s Black Album with the Beatles’s White Album. This needle in a haystack of Black Album remixes has guaranteed Danger Mouse and his partner Jemini, the Gifted One, a second shot at rap stardom. Their debut, Ghetto Pop Life, was initially released in 2003 to critical acclaim, but it quickly fell under the radar of most music programmers and listeners. Oddly enough, Danger Mouse did not politic the pandemonium that encircled the Grey Album into the development of his solo production career. He chose to use the Grey Album‘s success as a springboard for his and his partner’s contribution to hip-hop’s oversaturated market with Ghetto Pop Life.
A conceptual album in the vein of Prince Paul’s Politics of the Business, Ghetto Pop Life almost mocks the rap life to which its creators probably secretly aspire. Veteran “rap life” commentator Tash and his fellow Alkaholiks lend a hand to the booty celebrating “What You Sittin’ On,” while expatriate Goodie Mobber Cee-Lo croons on the unnecessary remix. The album features guest appearances by Prince Po, whose contributions do not show a glimmer of what his fellow Organized Konfusion buddy Pharaoh Monche demonstrates on his worst day, and underground hip-hop’s funniest emcee, some-time journalist, and occasional publicist blesses the Slick Rick-reminiscent “Take Care of Business,” informing all who care to listen that “Even Britney can’t get it for free.”
Jemini, the duo’s unsung member, stakes his claim to ripping metaphors and rhymes on the opening track, “Born an MC,” and throughout the entire album. Jemini’s passion and enthusiasm for hip-hop bubbles over each song, but his monotonous flow and incessant enthusiasm undermine the impact of his heartfelt and clever rhymes. Although Eminem is highly overrated, much of what attracts people to Em’s music is his ability to emote a range of feelings and states of being, not to mention his bottomless bag of flows. Jemini sounds like the bastard child of Sadat X, heavily influenced by his two gutter uncles in Das EFX. And that combination does not make for a great album, especially when accompanied by Danger Mouse’s good but not particularly compelling production.
On “Don’t Do Drugs,” Jemini steals the coveted title of “funniest Whitney and Bobby pop-culture reference” from reigning champion, comedian, actor and singer Jamie Foxx. In I Might Need Security, Foxx’s 2002 HBO special, Foxx mocks Whitney’s ill-advised and televised declaration that Bobby Brown was the “King of R&B.” Foxx suggests that Bobby might be the king of “rocks and blunts” or “ribs and barbeque,” but definitely not rhythm and blues. Channeling the Audio Two classic, “Top Billin’,” Jemini rants: “Whitney’s chillin’, Bobby’s chillin’, we get high when we get the feeling.”
Jemini’s got the hooks, the quips, and a gifted beatsmith in Danger Mouse, but he may need to study the homecoming kings of this rap shit. Hedonistic and materialistic themes, savvy marketing strategies and pockets deep enough to divvy out payola to every urban radio station cannot solely account for Shawn’s and Curtis’s success. It’s their ability to deliver a rhyme effortlessly, to make a simple rhyme complex, a complex rhyme simple, ride the beat and have fun while they’re at it that endears them to us. They are on top for a reason.
Jemini has immense potential, and Danger Mouse, although seemingly at the pinnacle of his career, does too. It remains to be seen whether DJ Danger Mouse and Jemini will assume the Ghetto Pop Life or dedicate their careers to its critique. Either way, I’ll be listening.