For the most part, rappers no longer strive to emulate Black Moon or Gang Starr. Packing gats? Getting paid out the anus? How obscene! From slick new-jacks like Drake and Wale to suburban anti-gangstas like Asher Roth, today’s hip-hop scene is more about stylish sophistication than gritty nihilism. Perhaps no one exemplifies this trend better than Kidz in the Hall, a preppy pair of Penn-educated chums from Chicago. On Land of Make Believe, their third release and first since 2008, they rap almost exclusively about name brands, good credit, and blithe college partying. MC Lyte may appear on “Jukebox,” but this is very much a new-school record, one that forgoes the dusty boom-bap of yesteryear for synthy electro polish. Welcome to the future.
Naledge and Double-O are breezily cocksure rhymesmiths with a flair for off-kilter pop-culture references. Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor? Mark Spitz? Scottie Pippen? All receive a mention on Land of Make Believe. What’s more, despite the privileged cocoons that they seem to inhabit, these kids know their hip-hop – for proof, listen to their highest charting single, 2008’s “Drivin’ Down the Block,” a booming homage to Masta Ace. Yet little else is noteworthy about the group’s endless boasts. Aside from the occasional goofy detail (“I love sandwiches after sex”), their horndog bravado provides exceedingly little in the way of memorable lines, growing numbing and interchangeable over the course of 15 tracks. When they try to deviate, the result is something like “Will II Win,” a tepidly shiny stab at introspection featuring the usually reliable Marsha Ambrosius.
The beats, all generically keyboard-heavy, are another issue; even Just Blaze, who was the most exciting producer in the world a half-decade ago, can’t save “Take Over the World” from being anything more than a harmlessly enjoyable slice of ’80s pop, Phil Collins horns and all. Tracks like the clattering “Jukebox” and dancey “Running” are a moderate improvement, but if you want suburbanite rap, stick with the Cool Kids.