[9 November 2008]
It’s easy to be impressed by Josh Martinez. Since his 1999 debut album, Josh Martinez & The Hooded Fang, he’s played more than 200 dates per year all across the globe, headlined festivals, started his own record label (Camo Bear), signed deals with distributors in the UK, Europe, Japan, and North America, and still found time to front underground pop project the Chicharones and rowdy rock band the Pissed Off Wild. Martinez achieved all of this, and more, without the help of an established record label, manager, booking agent, or publicist.
In 2005, the Portland, Oregon, rapper decided to employ a full-time staff to give him the support necessary to continue his ludicrous workaholic lifestyle. The immediate result was 2005’s Midriff Music, an album that won the Best Rap Recording gong at the Western Canadian Music Awards. Limited praise, perhaps, but nonetheless a sign that Martinez’s hard work was paying off.
Unfortunately, it appears as though Martinez has tired himself out. For much of The World Famous Sex Buffet he sounds tired, lamenting that things aren’t what they used to be. On excellent opener “All Rapped Out”, Martinez speaks of his frustration with modern hip-hop: “The shows were packed / It was all so new / The fans bought the CDs to be down with you / The battle used to matter / Now it’s just a shit show / These days it’s all just politics and dick jokes”.
“Grown Folks Music” continues the trend of Martinez venting his frustration with his contemporaries, using a piano and acoustic guitar on his opening to ram home the point that he’s a “grown ass man making grown folks music”. “Grown Folks Music” marks the end of a trio of terrific opening salvos (the two songs are bridged by “Ritalin Future Sounds”—a funny and funky recollection of Gnarls Barkley’s brilliant first album), but Martinez is never quite able to recover his stride.
“Strut” relies on an ill-advised “Blister in the Sun” riff to exert any kind of presence, while Martinez dresses “Underground Pop”‘s thumping drums and scratches with interpolations of A Tribe Called Quest and Biggie lyrics. When Martinez slows the pace, the results are even less successful. “R.E.S.P.O.N.S.I.B.I.L.I.T.Y.” is turgid and dull, while the blues guitar-led “Beerhunger Lovestory” needed a far better beat to disguise the corny frat boy humour that Martinez occasionally insists on pushing. The stoned ersatz psych of “Trickle Down Trauma” doesn’t work on any level.
There are moments outside of the first three tracks when Martinez does get back on track. “Fight or Fuck” is akin to Aquemini-era Outkast, offering organic beats and double-time rhymes that collide with intergalactic synth runs and elements of P-Funk-inspired swirls. “Going Back to Hali” offers a low-down, ass-shaking beat and is easily the album’s most danceable track.
It’s a real shame that The World Famous Sex Buffet doesn’t quite work. Martinez’s writing is still focussed and furious, his punchlines still deliver both laughs and provocation. At his best, he’s still an exquisitely literate hip-hop everyman, but despite all his hard work, Martinez has always been under-appreciated. This time, unfortunately, he deserves to be.