Thankfully, DJ Sharkey has included Jean Grae and Cannibal Ox on his Babygrande debut; it would otherwise be a snoozefest with at least one absolutely unlistenable track. Sharkey’s Machine is just that: a mechanical paint-by-numbers deejay record that is both blessed with guests and cursed by them. Outside support is featured on eight tracks; six of them should’ve opted out of their studio dates.
After being screwed by Elektra in his previous outfit, the Crownsayers, Sharkey formed a band called the Spark and began work on his solo record for Babygrande. Although Babygrande is home to Jean Grae, the new Brand Nubian stuff and Philly’s Outerspace, Sharkey’s label debut makes for uneven listening compared to the label’s bright lineup.
The opening jazzy cut-up, “Warming Up for a Scissor Fight,” is riddled with samples that have been shredded to pieces time and time again. There’s plenty of scratching, but it’s not compelling enough to size up to what else is out there. Fortunately, the pace is drummed up ten fold for the second track, “Fuzz,” featuring Can Ox.
Vast and Vord’s teamwork dominates on their brief appearance on “Fuzz”; the former always creatively one-upping street thuggery, cheerfully promising to “cut off your nose to spite your face/ I’ll smack your mouth to knock out the taste.” All this over Sharkey’s blazing backdrop: overpowering, evil fuzzy bass tones, stops and starts and vocals that are battling constantly for proper speaker placement. But “Fuzz” is followed by one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard.
Cherrywine, another member of the Babygrande roster, takes a guest spot on the third track. “Phone Sex” is most definitely a runner-up for a Fun Lovin’ Criminals A-side, if that’s any indication of its worth. A choppy, uninventive number that reeks of contemporary funk, Cherrywine delivers class acts like “find a new position that’ll get the perfect expression.” The Spark’s cuts are candy for the hip-hop/country or rock crossover fan, if there is any person alive that appreciates that kind of fodder.
Sharkey shines again on the album’s best track, “Summer in the City,” featuring the never-disappointing Jean Grae. It’s not just her verse — which is a breathless flow of excellence, this time characterizing hotter cityscapes to the tee — but Sharkey’s beats and scratching is his finest on the debut. Bursts of brass and well-placed drum breaks complement Grae’s catchy rhymes and chorus better than anything else here. But after this track, there’s not much else.
Sharkey’s instrumental pieces should be as exciting as his work on “Fuzz,” but they’re not. He finds greatness on “Slo-Mo” because he allows the beats to change and slowly adds new ideas. This idea is applied here and on the handful of aforementioned better tracks, but not often enough. Sharkey shows promise, but his brightest moments are too few on Sharkey’s Machine. Better luck next time — providing next time doesn’t include Cherrywine, of course.