“Chi-town stand up!” The Midwest swing in hip-hop has been disrupting the triangle of mainstream rap hegemony that has become the East, West, and Dirty South. Regional stylizations, such as pronunciations (thurr instead of there) and chicken dances have already been widely recognized and co-opted by the larger hip-hop mainstream. The (re)introduction of Twista’s unique rapid-fire flow in his most commercial release yet, Kamikaze, adds to the resurgence of hip-hop from the Midwest, and more importantly, from Chicago.
Arriving on the scene in 1991 with his debut, Running Off at Da Mouth, Twista’s trademark style quickly landed him a deal with Loud Records and the title of “World’s Fastest Rapper” by Guinness Book of World Records. But in relation to Chi-town’s other mainstream notables and quotables, Twista seems to fall closer to R&B panty droppin’ R.Kelly than the artsy Bohemian raps of Common. On Kamikaze, Twista is more technically sound than ever, demonstrating the diversities of hip-hop music regionally. But thematically, he merely conforms to the banalities of hip-hop booty-dom.
In Kamikaze, Twista shows why there has been a revival in the Midwest hip-hop scene. Although Twista isn’t the first to use the double-time style, his popularity has given him the opportunity to work with headliners including Jay-Z, Lil’ Kim and P.Diddy. His style is clear and articulate, but he doesn’t rely on this novelty throughout his album. What’s equally impressive is Twista’s versatility; he’s able to change his rhyme patterns and tempo within the boundaries of the same song. That’s best exhibited on the soulful and bounce-heavy Kanye West-produced “Slow Jamz” and “Overnight Celebrity.” His wit and flow blend seamlessly over the sped up crooning R&B samples in an otherwise seeming clash of sonic style. If Twista’s technical skills are as complete as Kevin Garnett’s game, however, his content appears as one-dimensional as Mark Madsen’s acting.
Twista is cashing in on the R&B-filtered pimp-rap currently topping the charts. These two “categories” are not mutually exclusive, but Twista’s Kamikaze is so laden with sexual fever that he almost sounds like the rap version of R.Kelly. “Like a 24” is reminiscent of Kell’s comparing women to car parts in “You Remind Me.” Tired “sex” anthems like “Badunkadunk,” “So Sexy” and “Drinks” come off as irrelevant afterthoughts to the lady-killing tracks that precede them.
Although the overwhelming emphasis on his relationships with women is humorous, it’s also limiting. Even R.Kelly’s uncanny talent at making generic tracks into anthems (i.e. “Thoinga Thoing” and Cassidy’s “Hotel”) can’t save the themes of pleasuring women that he’s so good at using. “Hope,” featuring the eclectic and soulful tastes of Cee-lo, is an effort at introspection and anti-violence. It’s a welcomed breather, but its tokenized “consciousness” comes off as insincere in the ass-centric flow of Kamikaze.
With his formulaic emphasis on masculine bravado, sex and women, Twista definitely aims at getting paid. But his unique rapping style can help draw attention to the Midwestern hip-hop aesthetic. The growing interests in Twista’s flow could challenge the ways that we identify rap music, as well as the perceptions of the technical complexity of the art and culture. Kamikaze is a steady effort; there’s just too much junk about the trunk.