[16 July 2007]
Do you know that the harder thing to do and the right thing to do are usually the same thing? Nothing that has meaning is easy. “Easy” doesn’t enter into grown-up life.
—Robert Spritzel (Michael Caine), The Weather Man (2005)
There’s a Weather Man film, released in 2005, and there’s a Weatherman hip-hop CD, released in 2007.
First, the film: Nicolas Cage stars as Dave Spritz, a Chicago weatherman whose ease in presenting local weather patterns on the blue screen fails to translate to his whirlwind of a personal life. Aside from sneak attacks by the hecklers of his viewing audience—they thrash him in random toss-bys with burritos, falafels, and soft drinks—his professional life isn’t too shabby. Mainly, he stands a good chance of snagging a plum position on the fictional Hello America program, which would afford him a wider range of perks: a boost in his meteorology cred, as he’d be working with Bryant Gumbel, who cameos as himself; a move to New York, representing new vistas and new markets; and definitely more cash to rule everything around him (C.R.E.A.M.! Get the money, dollar, dollar bill, y’all!).
As you might guess about a guy who changes his name from “Spritzel” to the more “refreshing” Spritz to augment his TV persona, faking one’s way through a weather forecast is a lot different from keeping things together in “real life”. And Spritz’s everyday digs are in shambles.
There’s his patchy, distrustful relationship with his ex-wife, which he somehow traces back to the time he forgot to request tartar sauce with the family’s takeout order, despite numerous reminders, and then lied about it (“They were out”—of friggin’ tartar sauce? Come on, man.).
There’s also his disconnection from his kids. On the one hand, he’s got his sullen, esteem-challenged daughter to deal with; on the other, there’s his son, who gets caught in a counselor/pedophile’s tractor beam through tactics little Arnold (Gary Coleman) saw through back in the ‘80s on Diff’rent Strokes. By the way…
When a grown man looks at your toothpick arms and says, “Wow, have you been working out? Take off your shirt and I’ll take some pictures so we can keep up with your progress”, you need to RUN, damn it, run as fast and as far away as you can, and don’t look back! Do I really need to tell y’all this?
Your music listenin’ homie.
Topping it all off, there’s Spritz’s lifelong dream of attaining his father’s approval (dear old dad, played by Michael Caine, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author). Unfortunately, Spritz’s excitement over the Hello America opportunity is dampened by the knowledge that his father is terminally ill.
Now, at last, the hip-hop album. Evidence, best known as a member of rap group Dilated Peoples, didn’t construct a soundtrack to The Weather Man movie with his Weatherman LP (“Weatherman” is a nickname he already had), but there are similarities. No doubt, Evidence’s use of meteorology and climate, much like Black Panther’s My Eternal Winter, parallels the movie’s motif, as you can judge from his song titles (“Perfect Storm”, “Chase the Clouds Away”, “Hot & Cold”), his lyrical testimonies about his resolve and emotional fortitude, and the three brief “weather report” skits.
But, beyond the weather-related phrase turning, both the movie and the hip-hop album focus on the characters of their respective heroes. Nicolas Cage’s Dave Spritz finds his center by studying archery—a little trite, I’ll admit, but you gotta remember this is the same dude who saw cute buns stuffed in a pair of jeans and subsequently blanked out on the words “tartar sauce”. His cues shouldn’t be any less conspicuous than a large bull’s eye. Evidence, by comparison, having experienced the loss of his dear mother Jana Taylor to cancer, reaches into his core on The Weatherman LP to find comfort in hip-hop.
In fact, he’s an ideal character study, given his rap moniker “Evidence”, because, although he devotes a skit to the scientific community’s reliance on verifiable evidence, the legal system relies on “evidence” as well. In the U.S. Federal Rules of Evidence, for instance, the first sentence of Rule 404(b) states, “Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith.” In other words, the fact that you’ve acted like a scumbag in the past can’t, as a general rule, be used to show you’re likely to commit the same scumbag acts in the present. That’s why, on the lawyer shows, the defense attorneys sometimes say, “I can’t put you on the stand because it will open the door to all of your prior convictions coming into evidence.” However, the rule goes on to allow “other acts” to be used for “other purposes”. So the fact that you’ve acted like a scumbag in the past could be used to show you had motive or opportunity, to highlight your modus operandi, or to establish that the circumstances weren’t the result of an accident (“He tripped and fell and that’s how he died,” you say, but your last four spouses “tripped, fell, and died” ... hmmmm ...).
How interesting, then, that Evidence the Rapper essentially poses (and answers) a question of character with his album: in the face of adversity, will he fall or will he prevail? His answer is that he’ll prevail, but not simply because he’s always survived in the past (that is, using “other acts” of perseverance to show he’s likely to persevere now, “to show action in conformity therewith”), but instead because his track record proves his motives, his opportunity, his pattern, and mode of operation.
In this regard, the weather theme goes farther than the clichés—“It’s a cold, cold world”, “When it rains, it pours”, and “The sun will come out tomorrow”—it becomes a guiding principle for revitalization. Evidence experiences hip-hop therapy, invigorated by the potency of his muse.
As the protagonist in his own movie, Evidence begins with “I Know”, accompanied by songbird Noelle Scaggs. Fully aware of the perils inherent in going it alone, without the shelter of the Dilated Peoples umbrella (although fellow Dilated junkies Babu and Rakaa help out in spots), Evidence affirms his commitment to his project. It also helps to have that sample from Phife’s verse in A Tribe Called Quest’s “Vibes & Stuff”: “Go out on my own, somethin’ that I gotta do”.
Will the gamble for independence pay off? Well, the forecast indicates an influx of highly motivated lyrical content, as Evidence speaks of starting fresh in the Zen-like “Letyourselfgo”, featuring the Alchemist—also busy behind the boards this year on Prodigy’s Return of the Mac—and Phonte. “It’s a brand new day, it’s a brand new Me”, Evidence says, accompanied by punchy beats and spastic samples. Contrary to the Tony! Toni! Tone! song “It Never Rains (In Southern California)”, emotional terrain gets its share of precipitation everywhere, but Evidence digs deep to identity the parts of life that make him happy (his music, his life, his people, his mother) in “Chase the Clouds Away”. His reflections on his good times are similar to Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day”, right down to the “What the heck am I thinking about—life ain’t always like this” epiphany at the end.
Happiness exudes a certain self-confidence, illustrated nicely by the synth-heavy, Res-assisted anthem “Believe in Me”. I’ll take almost any song featuring Res, but I wonder what’s up with the Geto Boys-style opening, “I sit alone in my four cornered room staring at Pro Tools”. This year, Prodigy lifted the Geto Boys’ “I sit alone in my four cornered room staring at candles” on Return of the Mac.
Fortunately, storms don’t have to result in catastrophe, an argument backed up by “Perfect Storm”, containing contributions from Madchild and Dilated’s Rakaa Iriscience. With a stomping beat and high-end noises like a ringtone, the song plays up the opportunity to triumph from the clash of adversity and the desire to succeed. Evidence describes it this way, “The perfect storm / It felt so warm / ‘Til the rain came with winds so strong / The Weatherman warned ‘em but it felt so calm / ‘Til things lined up right and went so wrong”.
But things get better. And the idea of a “brighter day” following nights of pain, if done well, is a sentiment even the most hardened pessimist can respond to—take a page from the kinder, gentler pages of the Tupac songbook for proof. “Hot & Cold”, featuring the Alchemist, follows this path, defining “hot” and “cold” in varying, often conflicting, ways that demonstrate just how topsy-turvy the world can seem. “Hot” can be a “sold-out tour” or “that watch you didn’t buy at the store”. If you’re so “cold” you have “ice in your veins”, you’re a lot better off than having “cold feet” or “getting cold stares” and “cold shoulders” in “this cold game”.
Life, like the weather, is filled with change, movement, and transformation. Sometimes, we’re encouraged to revisit the past (check out Evidence and Planet Asia strolling through their violin-backed memories in “A Moment in Time”). Sometimes, we have to take stock of our surroundings (see: “Born in LA”, with Chace Infinite and Sick Jacken, which reminds me of Dr. Dre’s “Some L.A. N*ggaz”, albeit a little faster and sonically busier; the clap-happy posse track “NC to CA”, showcasing rhymes from Defari, Joe Scudda, and Rapper Big Pooh; and the superbly minimalist bump-and-soul of “Down in New York City”, with its nod to Biggie: “If I have to choose a coast, I have to choose the west / I was born out there, so don’t go there”).
Mentally, we might want to keep still and play it safe, to continue doing what we’ve always done, like the voices telling Evidence not to change his methods in “Things You Do”. For good measure, he rhymes much of the song from the perspective of an outsider, explaining what “they” keep telling him, and speaking directly to himself as “you” and indirectly about himself as “he”. At the same time, you can hear the criticisms of his career interspersed in each ear, sounding like indistinguishable echoes through regular speakers but quite clear and distinct through a decent pair of headphones.
Of course, the soundtrack to Evidence’s life doesn’t espouse a philosophy of standing still; it’s about emotional progression, looking ahead, and moving forward. In “Down in New York City”, Evidence notes that fallen hip-hop icons like Pun, O.D.B., and Scott La Rock are still living “in the sound of the streets”. It’s moments like these that I wish the hip-hop haters would balance their critiques with praise for artists who develop intriguing, introspective themes like Evidence does with this LP. On this point, “I Still Love You”, the album’s crowning tribute to Evidence’s mother rings truest (“You’re here wit’ me / I’m on my grind, Ma, ‘til the angels come get me”). I’m just saying, if the crusade against “misogynistic and violent lyrics” can make the news, why not also commend this rapper’s homage to his mother? And you can tap your foot to it, too, so it’s a win-win situation. What more do we want?
The gloom of the album’s cover art (overcast skies, lots of shadows, and plenty of rain) promotes the weather theme but doesn’t reflect Evidence’s sense of accomplishment, despite the bit of humor in the photo of him getting animated on a pay phone with the Capitol Records building looming in the background. That’s just as well, because you should be listening to the CD to feel the victory. To borrow that much-quoted line from the 2006 Dilated Peoples album, 20/20, don’t worry if Evidence writes checks, he’s still writing rhymes.
If you like, criticize him for being “Mr. Slow Flow”, the title of one of the album’s weaker, non-thematic tracks, since his delivery in general is arguably more sluggish than the faster-paced rhyme patterns that usually dazzle us. But don’t assume he’s any less proficient or engaging (“I rap behind the beat, but never after the fact”, he says on “All Said & Done”). That’s the beauty of having something to say and being undeterred in your mission to get that “something” heard: you become weatherproof.