[12 July 2005]
There must be a lot of pressure associated with being an independent hip-hop artist these days. Supposedly free from the shackles of bling and booty, the independent rapper is allowed to explore deeper things, via introspection and observances of the world around him. Problem is, sometimes the indie boys just want to rap about money, girls, and fame. Sometimes the indie boys just want to be able to write a song about getting laid without being accused of (cough, hack) “selling out”. It seems as though every time an independent hip-hop artist looks anywhere other than into the gaping void of his own belly button, there are a gaggle of fairweather fans ready to beat his head back down where it “belongs”.
There is a loophole, however: Obsess over an untouchable Hollywood vixen, and all is forgiven. Sage Francis is Natalie Portman’s most public stalker, and Slug and Murs dedicated an entire EP to Ms. Christina Ricci. Now, the latter duo is back, not content to let Ms. Ricci hog all the action when there’s another schoolboy crush to be dealt with: that’s right, it’s the one Cosby that the males could truly fantasize over and not get slapped with an Oedipus complex or end up in jail, one Lisa Bonet.
Much like the first Felt disc, Felt, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet has practically nothing to do with the actress in question other than the fact that two pointless tracks are named after her: “Lisa” (which carries the stupidly funny subtitle of “Never Easty on my Nextel”) and “Bonet (Cement Angels)”, which are both just telephone conversations over Ant’s stellar production.
Oh, did I not mention Ant? He’s along for the ride with Slug and Murs this time, doing production on the entire disc. Ms. Bonet’s inspiration seems to have dropped Ant into a pattern of deep grooves inspired by the mid-‘70s to the mid-‘80s (Bonet seems to have this effect on people—see Lenny Kravitz, “It Ain’t Over ‘til it’s Over”). As it turns out, Ant is more consistently enjoyable than either of the MCs here, going effortlessly from a pre-Golden Age hip-hop beat (“Employees of the Year”) to a deep soap opera groove (“Morris Day”) to a Kanye knockoff that ups the speed on the chipmunked soul sample to laughable levels (“Dirty Girl”). Predictably, the Ant highlights are the two tracks that bear his given name, “Early Morning Tony”, a down and dirty piano jam, and “Gangster Ass Anthony”, which switches beats every thirty seconds or so. From the sound of this disc, Ant is ahead of the game even when he’s not even trying; he’s absolutely one of the best in the scene.
Less consistent are Slug and Murs themselves, obviously not taking things too seriously, but never totally sure whether they’re goofing around or trying to be serious. If the entire album was a goof, it would be easier to forgive the frequent lapses into overt misogyny, but an awful lot of this is begging to actually be taken seriously. Lines like “Pussy don’t drive this car, bitch, dick do” and pretty much the entirety of “Breaker Down Like a Shotgun” (which happens to employ an overtly Neptunes-style minimal beat) are just begging to be quoted by high schoolers that just don’t know any better. Slug and Murs can do better than that.
But there I go, foisting my own expectations onto the unwitting dynamic duo.
Happily, the two otherwise generally eschew such damaging clichés in favor of witty wordplay and playful back-and-forth smack talk. “Your Mans and Them” is a fantastic ode to a suitor’s competition on the dancefloor (“Hey dog, say dog, what’s up with your guy? / At the bar, actin’ hard, he’s a magnet for a busted eye”), and “Life Vegas” rides a fantastic new wave backing to lines like “Everyone has a price, everything is for sale / We’re as hot as fuck, but as fun as hell”. It’s a party, and we’re all invited.
So sure, there are missteps, and even an ill-advised venture back into self-degrading emo-rap on “The Biggest Lie”, but mostly, Felt, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet is a party. Don’t expect it to be particularly smart, to speak to you, or to change your life—you’re bound to be disappointed. If you happen to be a fan of Either half of Atmosphere or Murs, however, and you just want an excuse to hear either of them perform something you haven’t heard yet, Felt, Vol. 2 will do just fine.