At last year’s Mixshow Power Summit in Puerto Rico, 50 Cent revealed to the world’s best hip-hop deejays that his “secret” to stardom was mixtapes. No universal mixtape theory exists (see Shaheim Reid’s extensive mixtape history on MTV.com or Oliver Wang’s piece in the Village Voice), but the mixtapes 50’s talking about are less about actual mixing than they are about promoting upcoming artists. This mixtape style, popularized by the Clues, Kayslays and Flexes, essentially became demos for 50 (and his deejay Whoo Kid) that incited a bidding war between labels pursuing him. Consequence, ex-fourth member of A Tribe Called Quest, hasn’t had the same luck on the mixtape market, though he has been persistent; Take ’em to the Cleaners is his third mixtape in the last three years.
Things have been pretty stressful for Consequence. Q-Tip’s cousin became an overnight celebrity when he debuted in 1995 alongside A Tribe Called Quest, the hottest group in hip-hop at the time (and arguably ever), on “The Chase Part II,” the B-side to Tribe’s hit single “Award Tour.” Consequence took over Jarobi’s spot as the sixth man off the bench for Tribe’s fourth album, Beats, Rhymes and Life. But with intra-Tribe conflicts, youthful naivete and industry politics, the award tours soon ended, and his lone hit off BRL, “Stressed Out,” became the theme of his young career.
Fading into obscurity, Consequence re-emergence has been slow. He’s released two mixtapes, The Cons Vol. 1: All Sales are Final and The Cons Vol.2: Make the Game Come to You, both in 2002, and was featured on Kanye West’s slave-wage anthem “Spaceships” in 2004. With Take ’em to the Cleaners, Consequence displays a collection of freestyles, full-length tracks, and personal plugs that could ready his spaceship for takeoff.
Consequence revives his soul-side spirit (as he displayed with Tribe) on Cleaners, collaborating with one of hip-hop’s current heavyweights, producer and friend Kanye West. West provides an encyclopedia’s worth of soul-seduced beats and lyrical texture that heavily rubs off on Consequence — at times their styles blurred so heavily that it’s hard to distinguish which emcee is rapping. But trading verses on tracks like “So Soulful,” ” ’03 ’til Infinity” and “Getting out the Game” displays some of Consequences’ more thoughtful and clever quotables. Over Kanye’s sped-up sampling of Al Green, he wittingly pens: “Linda changed her name to Nicky/ Sang along to “Darlin’ Nicky”/ Co-star of my quickie.”
Vulnerability and introspection have been significant on Consequence’s debut(s), but none of that is on Cleaners, which is limited in content. “Trains,” “And You Say,” “Doctor, Doctor” and “Turn Ya Self In” show that ladies are looking for love in the wrong places as Consequence flows over standout soul, funk and jazz production by 88 Keys, Baby Paul and Devo Springsting.
Consequence takes a breather from all this pimping on “I See Now” critiquing questionable groupies looking to lock in on future fortunes. Over signature chopped-up 9th Wonder soul, Consequence teams with Kanye and Little Brother on the tape’s hottest track. Cleaners is heavy on head-nodding and showcases an impressive network of collaborators, and Consequence looks ready to return to hip-hop’s public eye. The mixtape is far from spotless, but Consequence is doing his own laundry, making fresher joints that aren’t stained by problematic relations.