The saying goes that only 3,000 people saw the Velvet Underground play, but every one of them started a band. 50 Cent has a larger fan base, but probably the same fan-to-aspiring-artist ratio that the legendary New York rockers had. And aside from the countless Myspace pages of street-hardened MCs scraping for a deal and chintzy, copycat beats, there are people like Ransom, a New Jersey native rhyme slinger who inexplicably stumbled upon a record deal and is now dying for your respect. His debut album Street Cinema is a boisterous collection of street anthems that rarely find any hint of credibility.
Ransom differs from similar rappers because the entire time he’s flowing, he’s trying to prove to you that he’s from the streets. Whereas the current incarnation of thug-hop sees rappers spitting about their time on the streets and penultimate rise to fame, it also features them rapping about what it’s like on the other side, with the Cristal and Lambo drop tops. Conversely, Ransom spends the entirety of Street Cinema preaching — rather disingenuously — about how he lives in the streets. He, like all respected from-the-hood-MCs did, needs to make the decision to either flow about the hard times of the streets and how thankful he is to be away from them, or what it’s like at the top, even if it’s not entirely true — it’s just difficult to believe the guy with the record deal is truly still hustling hard.
Case in point, the pseudo-triumphant “Walk Talk”, a track in which Ransom chest-thumpingly proclaims, “I said I walk, talk, eat, sleep, shit streets / Know where to find me, born in the streets.” He runs through a litany of before and after scenarios (“We used to be chasing hoes / Now we getting cake instead,” “We used to be thugging cops / Now we getting chased by feds,” etc.) before he claims to still be keeping it real, “You claim that you run these streets / Homie I will break your leg.” The dichotomy is mind numbing: either you’re still in the streets or you’re not. But Ransom sounds more like a straggler, hoping for that last bit of success on the coattails of a dying G-Unit career by stringing together all the crack-rap clichés he can think of.
The production is surprisingly competent on Street Cinema. The bombastic trumpet knuckleballs on “Grind and Hustle” are the perfect compliment to the overly anxious hi-hat taps — like a kid going for the top score in “Dance Dance Revolution.” The synth-strings on “Cash in Da Duffle,” sounding like a sample out of a “Dracula” movie, are the perfect compliment to the dreary horror-rap he employs (“I hear niggas taking they best shot, they best not / 50-cal leave their rib cage on the next block.”) — the type of lyrics you might expect from someone who’s still truly from the streets.
But for as much as the production can uplift Street Cinema it’s still incredibly amateur at times. The hometown anthem “Jersey” is mixed so poorly that even at a low volume, it comes out sounding like running water rather than the booty-bouncing bass thumps it’s supposed to be. And the eponymous “Ransom” features a chorus of barrel-bellied boys moaning “Ransommmm” with the aid of what sounds like an accompanying keyboard sledgehammer.
Street Cinema ultimately suffers more from poor timing than any fatal flaws. Four years ago, this record probably would’ve made it somewhere on the Billboard charts, but with a rapidly declining market for street rap and post-thug influx, Ransom sounds dated and out of place. It shouldn’t be a problem for him though: There’s always the streets.