Music

O.C.: Smoke & Mirrors

Dave Heaton

Incessently rhyming about how "complicated" you are can be dangerous, but O.C. eventually backs up his claim.


O.C.

Smoke & Mirrors

Label: Hiero Imperium
US Release Date: 2005-11-01
UK Release Date: 2005-11-14
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

O.C. might seem like an odd fit with the Hieroglyphics crew: the former is a tough-rhyming New Yorker who's part of D.I.T.C., while the latter is an an eclectic, fun-loving West Coast collective. But it's all about rhyming, right? They share a love for hip-hop at its most basic. And they're all hip-hop veterans, with albums, years, and struggles behind them.

Someone who is hip-hop-ignorant would be partially forgiven, though, for hearing the first handful of tracks on O.C.'s latest album, the Hieroglyphics-released Smoke & Mirrors, and thinking that he wasn't a legendary, perennially underrated MC but a newcomer trying to follow in the wake of Kanye West's success. The evidence? An intro about how he's "a walking contradiction... a hypocrite". An overblown, glitzy track with ego upfront and spiritual overtones underneath ("Martyr"). Two tracks ("You Made Me", "My Way") sporting high-pitch R&B vocals in the same vein, but vastly inferior, to what Kanye's doing.

On the whole Smoke & Mirrors isn't the work of a coattail-rider, though, just an album that shifts focus a few times along the way. Stylistically it's an album in three acts, or perhaps four. The first part is the overblown stabs at success in today's market. The middle section of the album convincingly goes for an introspective mood, with O.C. rhyming about life struggles over mellow beats, along with guest Hieroglyphic MCs here and there. These tracks come off as down-to-earth and sincerely personal, though they aren't spellbinding or especially riveting. The soulful breakup song "Gone" succeeds best by being the most specific, taking the serious tale of a relationship's disintegration and capturing it in a visceral way.

The album gets a harder edge for a few tracks, as the mellow mood segues into tougher beats and O.C. beefs up the force of his rhymes. "The Good, the Bad, the Ugly" reiterates his "I'm complicated" message in a three-verse format that seems trite but actually works. It's a powerful track, as is "Guns and Butter", a tight commentary on the hip-hop business. Something strange happens with this tough side, though. As he gets into it, he starts loosening up, sounding less concerned with what listeners might think of him. As he does that, he begins to emulate hip-hop styles of the past, taking the album in yet another direction: backwards in time.

On "I'm Da Boss" he adopts the persona of a mob boss, while changing the style up to make it sound like the track could have been cut in 1989. A fake newscaster voice gives reports of "boss" O.C.'s misdeeds (a hokey but fun trick that seems like it could have come off so many of the early crime-rap albums), while a retro Run-D.M.C.-style guitar throws a dark but cheesy cloak over the tale. From that point on, Smoke & Mirrors turns into a dizzying amusement park ride through hip-hop past. Much of the time O.C. and producer Mike Loe go for, and attain, a fetching simplicity reminiscent of Main Source (and Large Professor's classic "lost" album The LP), with a '70s soul vibe to boot.

But they depart even from that template on "Shorty", the album's biggest surprise and best track, where O.C. rhymes over a bling-bling disco beat that Puff Daddy might have liked and makes it not just work, but sound beautiful. It's a truly weird song, with the sort of bare-bones MC who evokes the word "purist" rhyming to a flashy beat, telling the story of warding off the advances of an under-age girl. The beat makes the tale seem silly, but he rhymes as serious as cancer, like he knows the trouble you can get into by making the wrong move. The track balances darkness and light so well, sounding like a would-be radio hit while bringing O.C.'s rhyming skills into focus, not dumbing them down even within the context of a song so simple then "dumb" does work as a description, not an insult.

O.C.'s obviously in a different place than he was when he created classics like "Time's Up" and Jewelz. With Smoke & Mirrors it's hard to get a grasp on what that place is, but that's ultimately what makes the album so much fun. As it proceeds, it shakes off the nervous and dull sides of the opening tracks and gets a new life. The journey of Smoke & Mirrors might start with a faux version of the present which rings a bit falsely, but it ends with a reverential version of the past that's filled with heart and spirit. Somehow the most retro songs on the album end up sounding the freshest, proving that maybe O.C. is as complicated as he claims to be.

6

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image