Western films produce a singular character aesthetic: understated. Why some of the genre’s greatest silent offerings hold up to their talking, technicolor kin is because those on both sides of the barrel carefully and quietly choose their words. From Clint Eastwood’s exemplary Man with No Name to Javier Bardem’s neo-Western villain Anton Chigurh, heroes and villains alike derive strength from their cool attitudes. A dependence on subtleties, then, is why the hip-hop Western lay dormant until rapper Jeremiah Jae and producer L’Orange’s cinematic The Night Took Us in Like Family.
In lamenting hip-hop’s lack of subtleties, no artist could characterize this contrast better than the megalomaniac mastermind Rick Ross. Offering “100 Black Coffins” to the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, the forced attempt of marrying these seemingly-disparate genres highlighted the flaws of trying to warp hip-hop production into a Western feel. Rollicking hi-hats, Ross’ belting ad-libs, and a desire to increase decibels to signify emotional change detracted from the Western inspiration. Even more egregious an error that manifests itself as one of The Night Took Us in Like Family’s greatest strengths, the lack of Ross playing both hero and villain neglects a common hip-hop trope that Westerns succeed in: moral ambiguity.
The most notable comparison in the one rapper-one producer genealogy is MF DOOM and Madlib; dispersing esoteric soul samples and film dialogue like he was making a click-bait commercial for an upcoming theatrical release, L’Orange’s similar strategy compliments Jeremiah’s smoothness perfectly. The first section of the album, “Introduction to a Conspicuous Man”, showcases the necessity of this relationship: with a slight plurality of Jae’s voice compared to the smooth induction of samples, the shaky footing of his self-titled character begins his metamorphose into the anti-hero in “The God Complex”.
This second section introduces the second and final feature on the album. This is where Homeboy Sandman’s stellar verse comes in; his beginning line serves as a thesis statement for the songs to follow: “I’ll never be apprehensive, I’ll never be apprehended.” Like any great Western, the heroes and villains think and act fluidly in comparison to the rigid law around them.
Calculating the equation of “hip-hop Western”, The Night Took Us In Like Family thankfully weights the formula’s second word greater than the first. Jae relinquishes hook duties to staccato soul samples or simply disregards hooks in general. The club-ready hi-hats of “100 Black Coffins” act more metronomic. Where individual songs begin and end, clear definitions exist, but the album’s lasting potential comes from its adherence to being an album. Few good films can be entered and exited regardless of temporal location; the formula for nearly all great modern albums seems to appreciate towards this trend.
The mid-album standoff “Taken By The Night” gains its most value in context of the fifth and final act, “Macabre”. With Jeremiah Jae’s voice absent, a sample closes the album with the all-too-familiar Western fate: “I think it’s time to retire.” With a tip of the cap, switching horses for horsepower, it’s inevitable to imagine our hip-hop hero’s fading into the black, his advice from the aforementioned standoff softly advising, “Don’t get taken by the night.”