[27 October 2006]
The Canadian hip-hop scene has had difficulty breaking past territorial boundaries, with artists like DL Incognito and Choclair making ripples in Canada but failing to reach the ears of a vast and potential American audience. Classified, reigning from Halifax, has valiantly attempted to cross this commercial border by releasing nine albums over the past ten years. Adopting a commercial sound, complete with the hackneyed-yet-palpable musical style of taking a record, speeding it up and chopping it into a crunchy hip-hop bounce, Class is now rightly able to justify his style—complete with a bumptious persona and a “fuck y’all” attitude—after his series of commercial failures. On his tenth album, Boy-Cott-In the Industry, Class sets his sights on the state of hip-hop, using crisp and gutsy production to fuel his anthropological scrutinization of the genre in both a purgative and somewhat combative way.
The album’s production, handled entirely by Class, offers a tenderness that he himself could never convey through lyrics. Drawing heavily from guitar-driven samples and boom-bapish breaks, Class alternates between clean-cut party romps—usually in six-eight time—and laid-back smoke grooves. While his musicality is not necessarily adventurous, or even close to dripping in well-plotted ideas, Class uses his soundscape to show how simplicity in hip-hop can serve as the perfect companion to lyrics that chastise the genre’s faults. On one of the album’s speaker-popping singles, “5th Element”, Classified uses a deep brass sample with violins screeching towards the heavens, but subdues the repetitive riff to prevent the washing over of his focused words. This thread throughout the album allows his lyrics to remain the epicenter, making way for him to accomplish one of his main goals: to show that hip-hop can be freshly cut if rappers stick to its basic components.
Class focuses the listener’s attention on his lyrics by attacking derivative hip-hop and traditional haters with a colorful tongue. He reserves his bites for all facets of the hip-hop industry by tackling mainstream rappers, record labels, callow fans, media, and critics. He sets up this goal at the onset of the album with opener “Sound Check”, an introduction to everything Classified, complete with a hissing guitar melody that washes back and forth. Referring to himself as “staying deep-rooted”, he spits “Jump right into the game, a boy caught in the industry / But nowadays, I’m boycotting the industry”. By combining wistful phonetic wordplay and brash delivery, Class censures the hip-hop industry with his supercilious attitude, causing the tracks to become more scathing than subtly cursory.
But because Class is overemphatic in his quest to challenge the industry, his tracks manage to make the listener feel slightly uncomfortable. He may be justified to critique the state of music, but his gripe becomes overreaching and unnecessarily cumbersome at times. On “Unexplainable Hunger”, featuring Royce Da 5’9 and Choclair, Class particularly targets rappers over a grimey rapido sample, complete with a rusty amped guitar and light claps. He rhymes, “You rappers goin’ nuts, get your testicles back / I got the competition sweating more than sexual acts”. Although his message is delivered poetically and is somewhat chuckle-worthy, he encroaches the subject in too much of a slapdash and callow manner to communicate this message in the most effective way.
Fortunately, Class balances his aggressive laments with a mild mode of self-deprecation, allowing him to digress from his macho integrity and to don himself a shade of normalcy. On one of the album’s fantastic singles, “No Mistakes”, featuring a sped-up blues lick with a lush and emotive string section, Class airs out three of his biggest regrets and lessons that he has learned throughout his career. The initial verse is a recollection of his first four albums, which he claims to have released without liking, while the second entails his calamitous experiences in mixing business with pleasure. The third verse, though, opens up a side of Class that accents his faults and aids his humanization. Although the habit is possessed by many a rapper, Class treats it as more of a problem than an enjoyable pastime. He raps, “I know this shit will probably kill me / And I won’t quit, but every time I do it I feel guilty / And I still do it / Because every choice has a consequence”. By rapping in this way, he inadvertedly downplays his pride and makes his character more relatable, facilitating the listener’s ability to take his rough edge seriously.
Boy-Cott-In the Industry may never achieve the commercial success that Classified intends for it to have, but it conveys him as a vigorous emcee who has the skills and hunger to succeed. Class is willing to use criticism as a tool to put down others in order to climb his way to the top, but justifies his intentions by expressing and showing his love for the art of hip-hop. Whether or not this method comes with dignity, Class’s use of self-awareness offsets this hostile appraisal of hip-hop, and though this album may be the best of his career, this type of cognizance can only lead to sharper creations and inevitable success.