On his 2002 debut G.H.E.T.T.O. Stories, Swizz Beatz went the typical A-list producer route by recruiting a chockfull of emcees to rhyme over cherry-picked beats, only acting as the sole emcee on the tepid title track. The result was a bloated mishmash of throwaways, and with Swizz offering a soundscape that lacked any sort of consistency, the record unsurprisingly ended up in your local record store’s dollar bin. But outside of the solo realm, Swizz proved to be a bona fide hit-maker, crafting beats for everyone from pop behemoths like Beyonce (“Ring the Alarm”, “Check on It”) to rappers prone to anathematic brash like DMX (“Party Up (In Here)”, “Ruff Ryders Anthem”). While manning the boards for others, Swizz flirted with the title of emcee by anonymously chanting on his artist’s songs and after creeping further into their spotlight, he finally took the inevitable step towards a true solo career.
The result is One Man Band Man, an electrified and brief collection of tracks that allows Swizz to flex his control over the pen rather than the boards. The album is unexpectedly based on the craftsmanship of other producers—only three of the ten original tracks are solely produced—but the record is more about the emergence of his rap persona than a platform to showcase his command of the MPC. The lyrics are Swizz’s gateway to superstardom, since he has consistently proved his abilities as a beatsmith, and for the first time, he is given the opportunity to rap about his true identity and fully reveal the man behind the music. Instead, Swizz settles for less and doesn’t actually take the challenge of creating anything with substance. One Man Band Man is a party record and nothing more, and with chalky lyrics and testosterone-laden beats, Swizz seems content with making faulty bangers that are enjoyable from afar but break apart under scrutiny.
One of the record’s most amateur aspects is Swizz’s lyrical swagger, a style so contrived and unoriginal that it causes an impenetrable stitch in the album. Swizz tends to repeatedly circle back on certain lyrics, and while it gives the songs a dizzying and hypnotic effect, it comes off as uncreative and exhausting for such a short album. “Bust Ya Gunz”, a brooding Needlz-produced romp featuring Drag-On, exhibits this crutch with the stanza “Kanye know my name, Timbo know my name / Pharrell know my name, Scotty know my name / Came in the game at 16 and changed the game up / C-Came in the game at 16 and changed the game up / Kicks, snares, changed the beat game.” While the method works in its callow and repetitive party context, Swizz seems to be just wasting time with chants instead of using the space to say something substantial.
This imperfection could potentially stem from the fact that Swizz has always been a slapdash lyricist and is just using his providential position to pet his monstrous production ego, hoping that his hyper persona compensates for his poetic itch. This is supported by another one of the album’s biggest flaws, which distinctively draws away from his lyrical strength on many of the tracks. Swizz has the tendency to rehash others’ lyrics in an attempt to either make his songs relatable to the listener through familiarity or pay his respects to the classics. For example, on the voltage-filled single “It’s Me Bitches”, Swizz dips into familiar territory by rapping “Cash rules everything around me / Cream get the money / Dolla dolla bill, y’all,” clearly taken from Wu-Tang’s classic “C.R.E.A.M.” He even draws from legends Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 on “Take a Picture”, stealing the lines “It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder / How I keep from going under” from “The Message”.
Regardless of these tracks’ infectious catchiness, this method comes off as lazy and unpolished, even if the songs are irresistible. “Money in the Bank”, a cranky club banger that has 18 accredited writers (many of which he lyrically phrases), features a helium-laced voice that chants the lines “I ain’t tryin’ to save that girl / I ain’t tryin’ to save that girl / She got her hand out, but I ain’t tryin’ to save that girl,” suspiciously similar in delivery to Baby’s chorus on “What Happened to That Boy” where Clipse raps “What happened to that boy / What happened to that boy / He was talkin’ shit, we put a clap into that boy.” As the song continues, Swizz makes his reference material more obvious as he restates the classic lines “Now, what y’all wanna do? / Wanna be ballers? Shot-callers? Brawlers?” from “All About the Benjamins”. The song’s beat, provided by Marlin “Hookman” Bonds, is glorious as a standalone entity, but with Swizz repeatedly rapping others’ lyrics over it, the song loses it authenticity and Swizz consequently wilts in panache.
Swizz has obvious lyrical impediments, but One Man Band Man is not about clever rhymes or having substance, even with the inclusion of the straight-laced and dismal track “The Funeral”. In the end, he achieves his initial intention to be played at ear-bleeding volumes in clubs or sonically equipped rides. Much of Swizz’s previous catalog has been based on the exclusion of samples from his beats and the dependence on a keyboard of some sort, but in handing the production over to several unknown beat-coddlers, he managed to create one of the most blistering collections of instrumentals on any rap album this year. “Top Down”, featuring an overexploited sample from Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day”, sounds surprisingly regal and breezy despite its constant usage, and the Coldplay-sampling “Part of the Plan” is not as disastrous as it would look on paper. But even if Swizz is an upper-echelon producer with an ear for catchy and fiery sounds, he fails to realize that multitasking can be cataclysmic when one skill greatly outshines the other, and even if One Man Band Man has the potential to shake the club for a month or so, Swizz might just be better off playing hype-man on the next Eve or Drag-On record.
// Notes from the Road
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