“...most people see me and they think ‘damn, not again’
They signed another guy that’s a friend of Eminem…”
Hush has spent years in the rap game, paying his dues via collaborations with some of Detroit’s hip-hop luminaries (Royce da 5’9” among them), independently-released albums, and telling Jermaine Dupri to stuff it when JD was looking for a white rapper to counter Eminem on a battle track. As such, I want to review his major label debut, Bulletproof, on its own merits. I’d love for that last mention of Eminem to have been the final one in this review, but the truth is, Hush rests so far in Eminem’s shadow that pairing the two is impossible to avoid. Apparently, the two have mended fences since the much publicized (and inaccurately retold via 8 Mile) feud over Kim, and Eminem’s helping his buddy out now, producing a couple of tracks and guesting on one track on Bulletproof. And all of that would be easy enough to ignore if Hush didn’t sound almost exactly like Eminem for an awful lot of the album.
On the Eminem-produced “Hush is Coming”, his aggressive rant sounds just like Em, right down to that guttural throat noise that comes out when he’s shouting. “Blaow” is his syllable of choice for simulating gunfire. He adopts a twang in a track called “Put ‘em Down (Shake the Ground)” that’s structurally identical to the one Em adopts in “Square Dance”. And, he actually puts together what amounts to a sequel to the Eminem track “Criminal” (“Off to Tijuana”) by giving us the dirt on what happens after the mini-skit heist in Em’s song.
Yes, to call it “derivative” is to be nice.
The thing is, Hush can step away from his benefactor, and when he does, he actually proves that he might just be a decent rapper. He has a track called “Real T.V.” that works in more T.V. show names than I would have thought possible in constructing a battle rap, and even cops the chorus of Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life” while he’s at it. “This is the Real World where you watch from cheap seats / Weakest Links get killed over beats and defeats / Two of the best died, they don’t find a murder weapon? / No suspects, no Taxicab Confession? / No search for star killers, their faces glazed over / This entire case needs an Extreme Makeover,” he says, actually making the incorporation of T.V. more clever than annoying, and giving the requisite shout-outs to Biggie and Tupac while he’s at it. D-12’s Bizarre is along for the ride, too, but luckily, he never tries to rhyme, content to curse a bit as the announcer to Hush’s show.
Even without the gimmickry of television references, Hush proves himself worthy on the hungry, rock-inflected “The March”. Over distorted guitars, rattling chains, and a rock beat, Hush spits aggression and drive, growing more and more fierce as the music builds and builds, eventually adding strings and the occasional gunshot for effect. “The March” is an incredible five minutes that could well serve as a mission statement for a new MC looking to make his mark.
Unfortunately, “The March” is also a track that’s bound to be lost in the mix on an album full of mission statements. It would seem that Hush isn’t one to play the confessional card, nor the political activist card, nor the absurdist card, nor the race card, ultimately leaving him with not a whole lot to talk about. So he talks about how great he is and how nobody else can measure up. And then he does it again. And again. If not for the aforementioned post-heist tale “Off to Tijuana” (on which Eminem’s presence is actually pretty forgettable) and the unfortunate sex jam “Woodpecker” (where he pulls off the rare triple entendre in coming up with metaphors that use the titular bird), the whole album would be a tribute to himself. Much as I’m sure he’s a fascinating person, all of the chest-puffing and bombast gets exhausting quick.
But really, as a first major label statement, what better subject is there than oneself? Bulletproof is a surprisingly decent album with no skits (hooray!), lots of rock guitars, average beats, some big name guest stars (thumbs up for Kweli, thumbs down for Nate Dogg), and a white rapper from Detroit who just can’t seem to step out of the shadow of the white rapper from Detroit. As a character study, it’s really pretty interesting. As a rap album, well…it could be worse.