Two of the internet underground's strongest voices (Chuck Inglish works the boards) unite for one of 2011's first hip-hop album of the year contenders.
Over the past two years, Chip tha Ripper has refined his voice into something pretty special. At times sounding as nasal-throated and blunt-infused as Rick Ross or Gucci Mane at their most throwed, he is also now capable of whipping out a throwback, mid-'90s-type doubletime ("Hang Out" will take you by surprise with this especially). Given his natural voice is already highly recognizable regardless of which extreme he chooses, it's remarkably easy at times listening to Chip tha Ripper rap on Gift Raps. But has he mastered making music that's entertaining over a full-length runtime yet? One of his first smart moves is avoiding the 26-track, hour-and-a-half runtimes of his first mixtapes. Like last year's overlooked (by myself included) Independence Day mixtape, Gift Raps is a svelte collection of 13 songs.
Adding further to Gift Raps' concise demeanor is the lack of any guests, not even good friends like CuDi and Mikey Rocks. The latter is at least a little surprising considering his Cool Kids cohort Chuck Inglish produces all but one of the tracks here. Chuck, by the way, turns in a hell of a performance that shows him building strongly off the momentum of "Fat Raps", his previous collaboration with Chip that paid off strongly with an all-star remix last year. The beats on Gift Raps are consistently funky and blippy all at once, bringing to mind the stupor of Kanye's "Punch Drunk Love" siphoned through a blunt session rather than a Hennessey bender.
Gift Raps has one major flaw, though -- one I feel Chip tha Ripper is going to have a real hard time overcoming. Yes, his voice sounds cool as hell. Yes, his lyrics are definitely real and personal (his off-hand remark about working at Taco Bell is a great example). But there's something about the way he puts his verses together, and even his hooks, that makes them feel as though Chip's a guy that's just as quick to spit the first rhyme he thought of as the 15th. It lends a lot of his verses a rambling, almost Game-like way of unraveling that can sometimes cause me to tune out for brief stretches at a time.
And there are moments where Chuck seems to be piling on too much, like the bridge on "The Big Bang" or the basic sound of "Jumanji". It's definitely a unique song, but Chip sounds a lot more comfortable on the more laid back-beats and he always has. "The Big Bang" is about as close to a "Crazy World" as we could probably ask for from Chip tha Ripper. "Everyday Chillin'" might cause some screwfaces going both positive and negative, but over multiple listens, it's one of the album's biggest growers alongside "U.A.F." and "The Bio". "Plural" is another song that becomes endearing quickly, especially if you're going from iPod earbuds to a properly amplified car stereo or home hi-fi.
Because of Chip's seemingly physical inability to sound fully in harmony with some of the production, it does ultimately become Chuck Inglish that feels like the star of the show. The queues that he's taking from fellow Chicagoans No I.D. and Kanye West are more than apparent, especially on maximalist bangers like "The Coldest" and the psychedelic, post punk vibe of "DynoMan". The way he approaches beats as a matter of ever-flowing rhythms rather than the more precise characteristics of trap or boom bap music allows Gift Raps to hold things back at first, requiring multiple listens to pick out all the details available. Which also inevitably does favors to Chip, also giving him time to wear on the audience and for his lyrics to open themselves up more readilyl.
Eventually, you learn to ignore a lot of the negatives you can pick out of the listening process and simply enjoy the combination. The two try their best to pick up each other's fumbles and bad snaps, and when they click, it's on some Brett Favre 'n' Percy Harvin (this isn't a snap song yet?) steez. If it weren't for the fact I just can't bring myself to give Chip tha Ripper my undivided attention at any point in the runtime, this would probably get a little more love from me. At the price of free-99, though, it's hard not to point nearly any fan of hip-hop in Gift Raps' direction. In some ways, it feels like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy's easygoing fourth cousin. Its genes are very much a different beast, but in subtle ways seem built on the same ideals.