Although Count Bass D had cemented himself as a talented rapper/producer/musician, it was not until his appearance on MF Doom’s “Potholderz”, off MM..FOOD?, that he found his way into my constant rotation. At first, it was just the mere impact of his stellar verse, particularly that line my friend loves to quote: “Tyson is a fowl holocaust”. Like Doom, Count ripped the verse with a modest, static flow that evoked little emotion but was dope enough lyrically to keep you entertained. Then the revelation came that he had in fact handled the production as well, which was surprising since DOOM is known for producing most of his own work. The amalgam of the instruments, samples, and rappers worked so perfectly that you would be fooling yourself to not put “Potholderz” among the best tracks on that album.
But, as mentioned, the Count is more than just a great producer and guest-emcee. And, unlike what other critics might say, he’s no Doom-wannabe. After dropping his groundbreaking and original debut Pre-Life Crisis in 1995, Count basically made it clear that hip-hop would not be pigeonholed as long as he’s around. He went on to produce and spit on several more albums, including 2006’s Act Your Waist Size, on which he blended brash instrumentals and clever wordplay for an overall fantastic effort. But on his latest, L7 (Mid-Life Crisis), it appears that the always-progressive Count has taken a step into muddier, noisier, and ultimately less-accessible territory. Now, for him and his fans, this isn’t much of a problem. He makes his music for the love of it, as he makes inherently clear on the piano-laden “What I Do”. And his fans, which are as rabid as any die-hard group, will, of course, be satisfied with simply having new, and mostly solid, material.
But new listeners are bound to struggle with this record, the spiritual sequel to Count’s debut. Following any kind of story here isn’t easy, primarily due to the oddly-mixed vocals that tend to waver in the background. For example, tracks like “Gio Any (I Cold Just Came In)” and “You Got It” could have dope lyrics. After listening to the record several times, though, it’s still difficult to piece together exactly what is being spit. And it’s a damn shame, because both tracks, especially “Gio Any” and its smooth guitar and twinkling keys, are near-abstract-beat masterpieces. Had they been instrumentals, the story would obviously be completely different.
When Count’s vocals are audible, though, he is nearly unstoppable. On “Neon Soul”, which features an enticing, otherworldly beat, he spits some of his best lines, such as “Black like a hockey puck, compose like Wolfgang / Cook like a French chef, mad cream like Wu-Tang”. Much of the same goes for the introspective “Personal Things” and its head-nodding drums. Most surprising, though, are the two tracks where he treats us to singing. Yes, you read that right: singing. While he doesn’t reach for the stars vocally on “Can We Hang Out Tonight?” and “(Don’t) Run Out on Me”, he offers a surprising turn in his voice that’s actually rather enjoyable and repeat-worthy.
With the production being muddy, one would hope Count brought out the instrumental big guns. And, for the most part, he did. “Back Pay (Parts 1 & 2)” is straight-up insane with its reggae vibe and infectious beat. You can almost picture Count messing with his MPC and bobbing his head along to this one. Just as stellar is the erratic “I Love You”, which sounds like it was produced in a rolling tin can kaleidoscope. Sound odd? It is. But it works. The others, though, don’t carry the same weight. “I Need Your Love” is a little too experimental, and “Y.B.A. Square”, which also includes some interview footage, is solid, but repetitive.
While the hits on L7 definitely outweigh the misses, those hits still take time to grow. And the album itself is the very definition of a grower, much like his other records. The first two listens might even drive you up the wall, but at the third spin, something just clicks. The only problem is that some listeners, particularly the finicky hip-hop heads, might not get that far. If they do, they will find the magic within.