[26 February 2006]
“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
—Sicilian proverb (often attributed to Shakespeare or Klingons)
Hip-hop has long held to the mantra of “keepin’ it real”, but from the first time a rapper took a shoe endorsement deal or promoted a particular brand of malt liquor, the integrity of certain members of the hip-hop community would periodically be called into question, most often by some of the other, more principled members of the community. This is no different than in any other genre. Rock & roll fanatics have often been quick to call “sellout”, country music fans remind artists to “stick to their roots”, soul and funk proponents stress “Don’t fake the funk”. But as hip-hop, a relatively young medium, has joined the mainstream, it has particularly been quick to decry any artist who shows any notion of being insincere or affected (or at least it did until Puff Daddy climbed the charts and ushered in the Era of Bling and its guilt-free indulgences).
Still, few have had the tenacity to call into question the integrity of the entire genre itself. De La Soul has done it consistently, to best effect in the hilariously dead-on video send-up “Ego-Trippin’ (Pt. 2)”, where they parodied the at times already self-parodying typical hip-hop video, complete with subtitles informing the viewer that the cars and mansion in the video didn’t belong to them, and that the models were hired as well. Unfortunately, the video didn’t have as much impact as it could have because it was made by De La Soul, the perennial outsiders, holdovers from a Daisy Age that never materialized. Criticism of an entire community is rarely welcomed from those viewed as outsiders, and so De La Soul’s cries fell upon mostly deaf ears.
But if a “real” rapper takes the industry to task, people get uncomfortable. “Is he talking about me?” (If you have to ask…) And Chamillionaire has done just that. In the second track of the Sound of Revenge album, “In the Trunk”, he notes, “Universal sent me to bring some realness to the industry / Got here, then I realized that ain’t nobody real but me”. While he doesn’t make too many specific accusations, later in the track he does drop the line, “I’ll rip any gimmick rapper out from A to Z / 934-829 to the 2 if you still disagree,” (anybody want to take bets that that’s not a diss on Mike Jones?). You can imagine that folks like Mike Jones might be feeling a bit nervous right now, especially when the chamillitary man has, on the previous track, fired off rounds like, “Rap’s been dead so long / So, stop denyin’ what you feel / This is payback for the fact / That y’all ain’t tryin’ to keep it real”. And while many artists would hedge their bets by placing this last observation in the middle of track seven, Chamillionaire puts it front and center, in the opening title track. A mission statement for an executive house cleaning.
To show that he’s not too stone-faced to throw out a good quip, he does drop lines like, “You ain’t too smart, but play the part like you a pantomime… / Time to make you do the Running Man like it’s Hammer Time”. But such moments are fleeting in an album that is often grim-faced, even when he bares his soul (with H-Town legend Scarface) on the chilling standout track “Rain”, a song so powerfully soulful that it boosts perceptions of the album from solid to classic. Perhaps no one since 2Pac has kept it this real without sacrificing an ounce of credibility.
However, this is not the album Sound of Revenge, but rather Sound of Revenge, Screwed and Chopped. Herein lies the problem. While the aforementioned tracks manage to maintain (or possibly better) their studio counterparts, the remainder of the album is not nearly so consistent. For starters, after the momentum builds from the opening 1-2 punch of “Sound of Revenge” and “In the Trunk”, the album offers two mixes of “Turn It Up”, a song that, while tremendously successful as a single, on the album stands out as the radio-ready trifle that it is. While this would not be a problem with one well-edited mix, two mixes (one of which clocks in at over seven minutes) is too much for anything more than one of those “maxi-singles” (you know, the ones with the “Call Out Hook”).
After this stumble, the album regains some momentum, but never does it reach the potential promised by the first two tracks. Part of the blame lies in the format of the “screwtape”. While screwed and chopped versions of songs can make already laid-back syr’p-sippin’ tracks even more appealingly lackadaisical, when the rhymes and beats are as blisteringly fierce as they are on this album, this type of mix can run the very real danger of diluting the power of the songs with too much laziness-inducing mood-setting or gimmicky editing, which is too often the case here. After all, the Sicilians were right about revenge; it’s best served cold. Unfortunately, here the remixers take some of the coldest beats and rhymes of recent record and reheat them until they are lukewarm. In so doing, through often impressive panache, they occasionally rob the album of its most significant attribute: its realness.