White guy hip-hop has few real champions. Often, such is the case with Eminem and to a lesser extent Sage Francis, Caucasian emcees will try to co-opt the rage of cultural inequality that originally fostered the genre in the early ‘80s and attempt to mingle in the ranks unnoticed by skin color. That’s part of what makes the third from Brooklyn resident Tim Fite such a triumph. From the variety of folk samples and pop/rock aesthetic to the dapper cowlick, clean-shaven press photo, Fite embraces his Gawd given honkeyness without going to the extremes of Buck 65 artcore or MC Chris nerdcore. It’s as if Fink retained his early career sampling and developed a serious political conscience.
It wasn’t always like this, though. In 2007, Tim unleashed Over the Counter Culture on the web free of charge. The album was thematically adamant in its stance against consumerism and an RIAA inflated pop rap culture. As such, he felt it would have been inappropriate to charge any money for the work, and Anti- allowed him to indulge his morals (the label has some of those too, you see). With the indictment of dollar-driven hip-pop came an understandable amount of typical deep South posturing. For example, “I’ve Been Shot” is a tongue through the cheek boast about the dozens upon dozens of times bullets invaded Tim’s body, which adds a layer of parody to his delivery. More in line with his2005 debut, Fair Ain’t Fair changes the game.
His second album to be commercially released by Anti- sounds like a man comfortable being himself, and not getting all caught up in the BS mainstream society can snare you with. “Rats and Rags” goes one further by saying “if I wanted loving, I’d love myself” over a sparse, sympathetic beat filled in with classy electric guitar, strings, and a little plinking synth. He’s good with himself. The lyrics throughout the work are far less politically minded and far more poetic and introspective, while the beats are often hard to classify as such. They are more like you would imagine the sound of Danny Elfman presenting variations on a hip-hop theme (and not like the Mike Relm mash-up). “Inside Man” has no bass at all as it tells the tale of the inner light still shining in a man over what sounds like a pump organ and a faint children’s megaphone. That track is more Newfoundland sea shanty than rap.
It’s not completely hokey-pokey, though. “My Hands” betrays a blues influence. The drums are live, there’s a nice organ, and there are a few tweaked studio sounds, but the center of the track is a downtrodden electric guitar fresh off a back porch. Suitably, the lyrics moan a circular field song about blood, mud, and dirt. On contrast to this, “Sing Along” may be almost too white for its own good as it rests a lot of “la-di-dah” and “yipideeyay” over a ‘90s rock arrangement, bolstered by a funky bassline and both acoustic and electric guitar. What can you do but smile anyway?
The album is glued together with several minute-and-a-half-long interludes pairing little nuggets of Fite wisdom and authentic North American folk arrangements, often without drums. Of his three full-lengths, this is his most experimental sounding yet seemingly natural. Fair Ain’t Fair is a clear step forward for Tim as a growing artist. Granted, the aggressive political manifesto outlined by Counter Culture may have been more revolutionary, but this album sounds sustainable. When he wholeheartedly combines those, you’ll be looking at a maelstrom of positive change.