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Envelope

Insignificant Anthems

(Weightless; US: 1 Dec 2005; UK: Available as import)

Yo, I’m a nice guy, sure as shit / I don’t act like only my life’s important”
—Envelope


Envelope is from Columbus, Ohio, and he’s damn proud of it. “I was born and raised in Bustown, OH / And I will rep where I’m from till I die of old age,” begins the laid-back album opener, “Good Good Lord”. He also likes his family, and his friends, and his liquor, and his bike. He’s rarely angry, but when he is, it’s mostly at how Ohio gets manipulated by politicians. And by the time he finishes squeaking his optimistic, vaguely wistful way through the first chorus, you’ll want to too (this is encouraged).

It’s rare for a press release to try to advertise a rapper as “disarming” and “endearing,” but in Envelope’s case it fits. His bright vocal delivery carries a friendly, lightly-boozed charisma, whether he’s announcing his love for his hometown or decrying the current presidential administration (that’s right, even his anti-Bush songs are lightly feel-good). He slurs enthusiastically through the heartwarming chorus of “Stay Gold”, proving that all it takes is a great deal of pure joy to crow “fo’ shooooooo!” without a trace of irony, and he even brings along his best buddies from the bar to atonally, soulfully keen along with some of the catchier choruses. Whether singing about religious uncertainty or distrust of mass media, the guys nevertheless sound consistently thrilled to be here, and they belt it out like there’s no tomorrow.

The songs never shy away from the blunt edges of real life, but they remain almost always uplifting. On “I’m Not Poor (Just Broke)”, Envelope narrates the harsh economic realities he faces – “I like being broke like I like pain / But this is how it’s gonna be till my dying day” – but stops short of true despair before breaking off into the mournful, ballad-like chorus. By the time the song ends, he’s backed by his buddies again, all singing along with the lusty abandon of carefree kids around a campfire. Then, to finish it all off, he proclaims (multiple times!) how happy he is to be alive (and to have at least enough money left to buy a little beer).

As if that wasn’t enough, all of this is supported by strong production from relative newcomer Amos Famous. From the lazy horns of “Good Good Lord” to the resignedly majestic build-and-release of album closer “C’est La Vie”, Amos mines a wealth of nostalgic, crisp sounds to back the eager vocals. Tracks like “Would He Be Like You?” and “I’m Not Poor (Just Broke)” pair Envelope’s man-on-the-street observations with surprisingly pretty, simple orchestration. On “I Decline”, Amos flips the defiantly sung sampled chorus by overlaying it with an exultant, deliriously swooping new line of straight-up piano funk, thickly drenched in syncopation. All this, and endearing raps? Who is this again, you ask?

While at points Insignificant Anthems lacks the tight focus or the emotional resonance of, say, a Streets album, in terms of style and appeal Envelope is much like an American Mike Skinner, but with a brighter outlook on life. Some of the tracks could stand cutting (Blueprint and Illogic flow well on “Be Your Own Man”, for instance, but it ends up becoming more of a boring posse track than anything else), but when all of the disparate elements come together, the results are sublime – somewhere in between the amiable ramblings of a good friend and a form of mass proletarian catharsis. We are broke as hell, but this does not faze us, because we can wail it together until our throats give out, and at the end, we’ll all still be here. Envelope nods, smiles, spits another verse; the background singers high-five and group hug.

In a hip-hop scene that seems increasingly polarized between the shiny excess of the mainstream and a self-serious, preachy underground, Envelope is a refreshing smear of humanity. He doesn’t have all the answers, and he doesn’t claim to. He’s just a bike messenger from Columbus, with very little cash, a lot of friends, and a rap deal. But he’ll accept you as long as you accept him, because in a world of few certainties, nothing goes down better than a loud, brotherly sing-along, right? And he’s a nice guy, that’s sure as shit.


 

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