Azeem: Show Business

Tim O'Neil

Whereas most indie hip-hop releases have the kind of limp-wristed beats that just wash through your ears like musical Calgon, every beat on this album hits your cerebral cortex like a brillo pad. This is as fine a rap album as you'll hear all year.


Show Business

Label: Bomb Hip-Hop
US Release Date: 2004-10-19
UK Release Date: Available as import

Why are so many popular MCs so irredeemably lame? It's a serious question that no one ever has the guts to ask. Most chart-topping rappers are more concerned with selling a lifestyle than with selling their drama. And as harsh as it may seem, many indie rappers are more concerned with defining themselves in contrast to their blinged-out counterparts than with stretching their creative vistas. Both sides of the debate are unswervingly concerned with the maddening pursuit of "keeping it real" -- the former by keeping their minds exclusively on their money, and the latter by keeping it claustrophobically mundane.

Anyone who loves hip-hop might look at this falsely constructed dichotomy and ask themselves: "what the hell happened to the way hip-hop used to be?" Back in the day, when keeping it real didn't mean keeping it boring, hardcore rappers were more concerned with rocking a party then rocking their Escalades, and true lyricists were less concerned with their bank account than their state of mind. You don't have to sell out to the Man to rock a funky beat, any more than you have to be granola-eatin' chump to rhyme about the shape of the world. There is no better proof of this than Azeem's Show Business. This is one of the best albums of the year by one of the hottest MCs I've heard in quite a while. This guy has the goods, and he's not afraid to show up just about every MC this side of MF Doom as the ciphers they are.

One of the album's best tracks, "Non Stop", begins like this:

"This is my world, you are all junkies / The soup line's for nourishment, verbal punishment / Tape stampedes of apes on amphetamines / Hooked on that Mexican cat tranquilizer /
Hungry for melodies, memories of me / Cerebral, twelve feet above my own ego / Color patterns of Swatch watch on robots / Watch the dope swat the spot sergeant's coppin'.

This verse is perhaps more abstract than the bulk of the disc's rhymes, but they do spotlight the precociously catchy way with words that Azeem brings to every joint on Show Business. Look at how he begins the verse simply, with basic declarative statements, before ramping the complexity up with internal rhymes, alliteration and increasingly baroque imagery, until you what you have is a dizzyingly complex opening salvo. With just these eight lines he's shown more imagination and verbal dexterity than many MCs do in the space of a lifetime. He's got a flow that sounds as rich as cheesecake, that hits your ear smooth as silk, with the type of bold, clear elocution that most slang-obsessed MCs could never hope to approximate. He sounds confident, and it's hard not to understand why with material like this. It's a contagious feeling.

Which is not to discount the other half of Show Business, namely the beats. Whereas most indie hip-hop releases have the kind of limp-wristed beats that just wash through your ears like musical Calgon, every beat on this album hits your cerebral cortex like a brillo pad. The aforementioned "Non Stop", with beats provided by DJs Zeph and Platurn (the beats have been provided by a group affiliated with the Bomb Hip-Hop label), is a great example of this. This beat, with a crisp bongo break set opposite a funky upright bassline and a spare disco-era string vamp, could rock any club from the ATL to Oaland. The chorus even contains vintage freestyle samples from back in the day -- "guaranteed to turn a motherfuckin' party out". It's just a damn fine song, a brilliant evocation of the best kind of old-school vibe, and I say that without any equivocation or caveat.

Azeem seems equally comfortable whether he's preaching against the short-sighted materialism of his fellow rappers on "Platinum Trends" or the self-destructive nature of hip-hop grudges on "Blood, Water and Wine". "Blood is thicker than water", he intones, "Water is the source of life / I guess friendship is just cheap wine". He even goes where few thugs fear to tread on the bonus track "F.U.W.", which is an acronym for an especially insulting commentary on our beloved President.

Azeem is just a wonderfully gifted MC, fully in command of his abilities and blessed with the type of consistently phat beats that most MTV rappers would kill for. He seems to be that rare member of the hip-hop nation who understands the art and science of true lyricism -- the poetry and the rhythm, the use of simple simile and metaphor to create complex effect, and the power of direct honesty to carry true sentiment. This is as fine a rap album as you'll hear all year.






Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.


Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.