It’s nothing short of amazing to listen to Chicago rapper Carl Mitchell (aka Twista) spit rhymes. He’s one of the few rappers whose stage name actually personifies how his rhymes sound and make you feel. But his rhymes can twist you both ways. They can spin and fling you up to higher ground, or they can hurl you down into the cesspool of cliché in the blink of an eye. He can slice and dice words like a razor-sharp Ginsu knife. And he can deliver syllables so fast they leave your head spinning with pleasure, wonder, and sheer amazement—like watching Olympic sprinter Flo Jo fly past you.
On his eighth studio album, Category F5, Twista brings the furious flow like he always has. And he does so by beginning the album with a street-slang-meets-the-weather channel intro. He describes a “category F5” and ends the explanation with the chuckle-inducing punch line “some fucked up shit”. It’s dramatic but sounds more silly than serious. I thought I was in for a new kind of hip-hop-meteorological education. But like a tornado jumps around unpredictably, Twista darts back and forth from track to track, sometimes hitting his target but other times spinning right by the substance, only to get caught up in the torque of his own demise.
In 1992, Twista won the prestigious title of the World’s Fastest Emcee, clocking in 11.2 syllables per second, showing that the sheer speed at which he rhymes is the essence of what he does best. Like Snoop Dogg’s engaging flow, even when he’s not really saying anything with his rhymes, Twista’s Tommy Gun flow is enough to arouse pleasure in your ears. But, unfortunately, the song cycle of Category F5 isn’t as pleasant. It feels more like the destructive progression of a tornado ripping through a neighborhood, leaving some houses demolished and others standing strong. It leaves you wondering how this Twista missed the pretty houses that do remain standing on F5. Jimi Hendrix meets Frank Lucas on “American Gangsta” as a pseudo-cover of Hendrix’s Woodstock “Star Spangled Banner” intros the track. But Twista’s impressive fast flow falls victim to a cheesy message of gangster posturing that tells us nothing we haven’t heard before about being a gangster.
It’s always easy to wax poetic about the herb. But on “Fire” the spiritual significance of smoking weed produces only a momentary high, and the auto-tuned vocals on the hook don’t make the buzz last any longer.
For some reason traffic lights seem to be a inviting metaphor for sex. John Legend uses it on “Green Light”. And on “Yellow Light”, with a tinny, auto-tuned chorus featuring R. Kelly, Twista embraces his mate in a game of speed check as he tests out all the gears he can do when “knocking boots” and getting his groove on with the ladies, speed-rapping, or chopped and screwed. It’s by far one of Twista’s, and F5’s, most hilarious tracks (which I think is unintentional), but nonetheless it’s something only Twista could pull off, because he has tremendous control of his tongue speed. And like an exotic car, he can shift gears and turn on dime to please his mate at all the right intersections and sensual straightaways.
Category F5 sounds like a neighborhood after a tornado. Some tracks are left intact and standing strong, while others are desecrated and destroyed by the very Twister that’s trying to build them up. What sweetness there is on F5 is squeezed out by shallow blinging and ridiculous booty-riding rhyming.
But I love “Talk to Me”, which makes excellent use of Amanda Perez’s “Run with It”. Around that sample, Twista goes deep and rhymes lyrics of love, pain, and heartache into a gem. Aside from that, most of Category F5 jumps back and forth between pseudo soul and misogyny masquerading as genuine romance and passion. The sensual soul beats and erotic sonics—conjured by Twista and a host of other rappers and producers—might sound like gold bumping from a car stereo as you’re cruising down the boulevard, or they might be perfect jams to grind to with a dance partner in a club. But the misogyny outweighs the righteousness, leaving your soul wanting more. With a flow like Twista’s, it’s easy to get tricked into expecting more. I was tricked. I left the neighborhood feeling like an F5 hit me. And I left wanting more.