[28 October 2009]
Sole-source albums such as Rádio Do Canibal aren’t anything new. Stones Throw mad scientists (and brothers) Madlib and Oh No have both tackled this concept in their careers. Oh No, for example, released two albums of this kind; Dr. No’s Oxperiment, which sampled Eastern European music, and Dr. No’s Ethiopium, which sampled (duh) Ethiopian music. And, like any concept of this kind, it’s all instantly intriguing because, well, while these albums have been done, they are not done consistently. They are also not always done successfully, such as Madlib’s solid, but flawed, Bollywood-sampling Beat Konducta Vol. 3-4. On here, though, you get a musical platter of music full of Brazilian flair from BK-One, well-known for backing up Brother Ali as a DJ, and Benzilla, a name you better remember.
That aside, though, BK-One and Benzilla’s collaborative album remains inherently different from those aforementioned records for one huge reason: there are rappers on here. And, for the most part, the rappers are part of the Rhymesayers collective or are heavily-linked to the record label. That means you get verses from the superbly talented Slug, Brother Ali, P.O.S., Murs, The Grouch, and plenty of others. The only exceptions to the rule are some of hip-hop’s most talented spitters of the past 15 years: Black Thought (of The Roots), Phonte (of Little Brother), Scarface, and Raekwon. And these two seemingly diverse groups of artists blend together perfectly, with nary an awkward moment.
Rádio Do Canibal is the type of album that other producers and DJs should strive to recreate. There are very few weak spots and even with those, the album’s pace never slows. It’s able to maintain amidst slightly average cuts like “Mega”, which features the three men of Haiku D’Etat; Aceyalone, Myka 9, and Abstract Rude. But “Mega” is only considered average when placed next to its peers. Hell, it stands between a track with Brother Ali and Slug (the hilarious “Gititit”) and a track with Raekwon and I Self Devine (the hands-down dope “The True & Living”). In other words, place “Mega” in another part of the album or on another album altogether, it would do just fine. On here, though, it’s a little too heavy on the laidback Cali-vibe.
Also, there is the fact that the sole sampling source might turn some listeners away. While most will no doubt appreciate the cohesive and streamlined sound, it’s not difficult to imagine some will want more “variety.” That term is left in quotes because, well, there is actually plenty of variety on here. Benzilla and BK-One might only be using Brazilian samples, but they make sure to lace this record with a combination of bangers, chilled-out burners, and everything in between. The perfect example of that is the aforementioned “The True & Living”, which sounds like it would fit right in on a Raekwon album. The bassline, horns, and dusty drums are the very things Rae, and any rapper for that matter, should be spitting over. It of course helps that I Self Devine delivers with his verse, too. Then you have the smooth-as-silk “Here I Am”, highlighted by a lovely guitar loop and matching bassline. Phonte, Brother Ali, and The Grouch all sound so at home on this cut that it leaves you wondering why they all hadn’t collaborated before.
The so-called instant standouts on Rádio Do Canibal come one after the next. And they remain standouts until you either wear out your CD copy or decide that playing the album 10 times in a row might be excessive. You would be hard-pressed to not skip to the next-to-last track, if for no other reason than to satiate your curiosity. Brother Ali and Scarface team-up to tackle a number of issues that have caused the “American Nightmare” over a blend of stuttering snares, piano, and almost-ambient guitar. And that haunting chorus? Good luck not letting that sample become part of your own nightmare. There is also “Philly Boy”, an aptly-titled cut considering it features Philadelphia-emcee Black Thought. He spits like the beast that he is over a moody beat for nearly 90 seconds straight before it turns into a winding instrumental that is just as enjoyable as Black’s bars. And it would be a sin to not mention P.O.S.‘s winning performance on “A Day’s Work” and Toki Wright’s on “Face It”. Some have gone so far as to say “A Day’s Work” is P.O.S.‘s best work on the mic. And they would be right. He spits with an off-kilter delivery and makes mincemeat of words and syllables that should not flow so well. But P.O.S., whose 2009 release Never Better is more than worth your time, does it easily and masterfully. That also goes for Wright, an up-and-coming rapper who murders the funky-fresh “Face It”. He does it with honest lyricism, too, as he spits about being proud of your race and/or ethnicity.
If you’re a Rhymesayers follower, lover of hip-hop, or looking for an inventive spin on Brazilian music, there is no reason you should not already own Rádio Do Canibal. Not only does nearly everyone on here, from the rappers to Benzilla and BK-One, bring their A-game to the table, but it executed nearly-perfectly. To be fair, there is slight something that’s also missing from keeping this album from classic status. But that’s no excuse to pass over this album. Even if you are only interested in hearing how Raekwon fits into all this, you need to give the rest of Rádio Do Canibal a chance. As I wrote earlier, this is the album that producers/DJs should look to when crafting their next project. Rarely does a record of this kind sound so natural or cohesive.