I knew "Suga Suga" was going to be a huge hit the very first time I heard it. I was helping my brother move to his new apartment across town and had our local hip-hop station on (105.9 Janesville Madison represent), and suddenly these melancholy guitar figures came on and the familiar voice of Frankie J: "You got me lifted, shifted / Higher than the ceiling / And ooh wee it's a wonderful feeling / You got me lifted, feeling so gifted / Suga how'd you get so fly?". That right there was enough for me; I'm a big Frankie J fan. But then the rapping started: a raspy baritone murmuring some facile rhymes that will never win any prizes for originality: "I ain't worried 'bout a thing / I'll just hit me a lick / I got a fat sack and a super fly chick / And there ain't nothin' you can say to a playa / 'Cause Doo-wop, she's fly like the planes in the air".
In my younger days, I would have rejected rap songs with good hooks and not-that-great rapping. I was all about skillz, about cleverness, about making a positive statement! I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now. And many things about this song bug the hell out of me: referring to pot as "sticky-icky" and "ooey-gooey" is just so kindergarten; referring to your girlfriend as having "sweet honey buns" is just so junior high; doing a song that compares your girlfriend to marijuana, or vice versa, or whatever, is just so D'Angelo.
But I like the song anyway, and I like this album, and I don't care what anyone says. Baby Bash is nowhere near anyone's idea of a nimble rapper, and I could happily spend the rest of the review quoting some of his more egregious groaners, because every song has 'em. He aims low, but I like that about him. He's unpretentious, he'll never confuse or challenge his audience very much, and he keeps his subjects simple: ladies, smoking 'dro, being a gangsta and/or a pimp, and his rhyming talent.
So what's so hot about him? Well, his voice is pretty cool, gravelly and Mexican-California-with-overlays-of-his-adopted-Houston-Texas accented, whispery and forceful at the same time. And this actually works well with his subject matter: he sounds like he's telling the truth, even when he's saying that he's the "Image of Pimp" (sic) or narrating a "Menage à Trois". He's not, of course, but it sounds like he is, so it's okay.
Better than this trustable voice, though, is his obvious happiness at finally hitting it big. He's from Cali but he's been laboring down in Houston's insular rap scene for a while, calling himself both Baby Bash and Baby Beesh, trying to break in with the big boys, and not really making anything like a mark outside the city limits. But here you hear the thrill of someone who's just scored a major label deal, someone who knows that his hard work is going somewhere -- he's not so jaded or so old that he doesn't appreciate his position. "Early in the Morning" has the loosest party vibe in many a day, and some really silly useless work on the mic from our hero: "Check my watch / Connect my dots / Scratch my crotch / Jump in the flip-flops / All I hear is pots / And pans with the sizzle / Chorizo con huevos / Mang, it's off the hizzo". How fun is that? Even "Oh goody goody / Got the morning woody" ends up sounding like a celebration of being young and male instead of the creepy boner reference it is.
And even better than this youthfulness are the fat beats laid down by Happy Perez and the other producers on this album. Perez needs to be recognized as a producer soon before he turns into a hitmaker and gets souped on himself then falls off; "Feeling Me" has a really nice psychedelic-soul guitar groove, so what if it sounds just like "Suga Suga"? "Shorty Doowop" manages to be modern at the same time that it incorporates an "Eye of the Tiger"/ "Edge of Seventeen" guitar shuffle and a simplistic de-funked "Rapper's Delight" beat. The way Perez sets things up for the Merciless collab "Oh Wow" is neither original nor lively, but it's perfect, Snoop-lite for a younger generation.
(Quick mention of other producers: Mike Cee, Shadow Ramirez, Big Ice, and Oral Bee. Actually, the interjections of Oral Bee, who's got mad flow in Norwegian, on "Image of Pimp", justify the entire album, but let's not get off message here.)
So: a long album by a derivative rapper with okay but unoriginal production should equal a horrible listening experience, and it probably will mean that to most people who are all into the Rap Must Move Forward thing. I know what it's like, I'm that guy sometimes. But this is somehow fun, light-hearted even when he's threatening to have his nephews kill us, easy to take, bubblegum rap from Houston. I can't wait for the screwed and chopped version of this, which I fully expect to be the most fascinating rap album of 2004.