The Funk Doc can still flip metaphors and similes with the greatest of ease, but has Red gone wild enough?
Redman's sixth LP, Red Gone Wild: Thee Album, fascinates me but probably not for the reasons you'd expect.
It's not the fact that Redman's last studio album, Malpractice, was released in 2001. I wasn't the least bit worried about Redman losing his ability to rock microphones in the interim. One listen to Red Gone Wild should adequately demonstrate that the self-proclaimed Soopaman Luva is still one of the flyest cats around. As Redman puts it, he's "Bak in Da Building" and, as he rhymes in "Gimmie One" over the Pete Rock-produced slow grind, he's "back in business like EPMD" (Get it? EPMD's albums always had "business" in the title).
It's true that his lyrical prowess has been on full blast for almost 20 years, going back at least to EPMD's Business as Usual, where Redman kicked that alliterative verse at the end of "Hardcore". But Redman's longevity doesn't surprise me. He's crazy enough, zany enough, and creative enough to still be here and, more importantly, to deserve to still be here.
My fascination with Red Gone Wild doesn't stem from the contributions of Redman's Gilla House crew. I've always admired hip-hop's communal spirit, the idea that if I get a record deal, then I'll let my buddies take a crack at a verse or two on my album. You don't see that happening much on R&B albums. Singers don't say, "This is my 'play-cousin' Ray-Ray. We used to live on the same block. I'm gonna let him sing the second verse on this track." But the Gilla House rhymers didn't overwhelm me, despite Redman's persistent shout-outs to his posse and despite their competent performances.
The same thing goes for the other guests, from producers like Timbaland, Erick Sermon, and Pete Rock, to rappers like Keith Murray, Biz Markie, Snoop, Hurricane G, and of course Method Man. I admit it's always good to hear Pete Rock's track work, although I expected a stronger effort from him than "Gimmie One". And I'll go further and say that hearing Biz Markie or Keith Murray is like getting a phone call from an old friend you wish you'd hear from more often. On the other hand, having Method Man and Erick Sermon on deck is par for the course for a Redman album, especially when their verses are passable but not stellar, as they are on "Smoke Treez" (with Method Man) and "Walk in Gutta" (with Sermon, Murray, and Markie -- sounds like a law firm name, doesn't it?).
Nor am I fascinated by Redman's success in spite of his unchanging subject matter. Redman was only ever interested in a few things, mainly delivering punch lines and smoking blunts, evidenced by the album cover. It shows a blue cartoon character, who looks like he'd be named Blunted Smurf, stomping over a weed field with a blunt dangling from the corner of his mouth.
Occasionally, Redman's got sex on his mind. But let's face it -- nobody should be looking to Redman for advice (except he'll advise you to buy his albums), or for political activism (unless there's an election for Mayor of the city of Funky Beats), or for "positive" messages (other than the joys of blunt smoking). Everybody knows this, which is why the skit "F**k Ur Opinion" strikes me as odd, unless it's a parody of NWA's "Protest" skit from Niggaz4Life, with news-style sound bytes expressing disapproval for Redman's flows. The skit's newscaster reports that detractors believe the album "encourages young kids to smoke and to run wild."
To borrow a phrase from MC Lyte, I "cram to understand" how a Redman album could influence actual behavior. By all means, take him seriously as a wordsmith and a master lyricist, but don't buy Redman hoping he'll illuminate the riddles of the human condition.
If you like, you can spin his mostly carefree, always imaginative style into a carpe diem philosophy of life. Keep in mind, though, that Redman's brand of hip-hop isn't the same as Dead Prez's or Public Enemy's. Redman is the class clown, the kid in your high school who sat at the back of the class and made fun of the teacher, the kid who pulled all the practical jokes, the kid sporting a grape drink mustache and a huge grin on his face. He is the biggest and loudest sh*t talker, the consummate con artist, the ultimate superfreak. Let me put it this way -- I might hang out with Redman and laugh at his jokes, but I wouldn't want him dating my sister. And he could pass that note along to Method Man to save me the trouble. You think hip-hop has seen beef before? We'd have more conflict than the Montagues and the Capulets over that mess. "Why can't you date rappers like Talib Kweli," I'd be saying to my sister. "And, no, you can't date rappers whose names contain 'little' or 'young' or derivatives of the two."
Could you blame me? We're talking about the dude who said he was Rated X but got demoted to Rated R because he "beat up the Devil with a shovel so he dropped me a level" (on "Rated R" from his debut Whut? Thee Album). The same guy who, in the same song, hit Chuckie with an uppercut, snapped Michael Myers's neck, pimped Norman Bates since "he dresses like his mama", and gave Freddy Krueger nightmares of him.
This is the man who said he could attract women "like Madonna all the way down to Smurfette" and then turned around and started rapping in Korean (at least that's what he said he was speaking) just to show he could pull it off. He's taken on one persona after another -- Funk Doc, Dr. Trevis, Soopaman Luva -- and he's even rhymed with and against himself, as in "Redman vs. Reggie Noble". One of the mildest tricks was to teach us how to get high, giving detailed instructions in "How to Roll a Blunt"; the freakiest might be when he took a sex break in the middle of Dare Iz A Darkside's "Noorotic", a trick Three 6 Mafia tried to repeat on Justin Timberlake's "Chop Me Up". This is the man who disabled a police vehicle with a banana. The same man who wrecked the buffet at the Harrow Club. Whoops, wait a sec. Those last two acts of mayhem were committed by Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) in Beverly Hills Cop. But you get the idea.
Which leads me to my fascination. It's the album title, Red Gone Wild, that piques my interest. Clearly, the title recalls the Girls Gone Wild video series, as the fine print indicates on the back cover, "Girls Gone Wild is a trademark of Mantra Films, Inc., used by permission". Aside from prompting me to rethink the "intellectual" in "intellectual property", the "Girls Gone Wild" mark conjures images of late-night commercials for skanky videos, the ones that advertise censored clips of young women groping each other, yanking up their t-shirts, and shaking their rumps.
Given this, I expected Red Gone Wild to be equally outrageous, coming from a rapper with a history of outrageous and hilarious conduct. Yet, while the album is an extremely good listen, it's surprisingly safe. Redman hits his punch lines, rides his beats, and smokes his blunts, but the adventure is never all that wild. It's song after song of clever flows (and I'm thankful for that!), sprinkled with references to Gilla House and New Jersey, but I can't help feeling that, except for the rather bizarre "Pimp Nutz", Red could have gone wilder and could have rocked harder.
The skits, which you'd also expect from a Redman album, don't do the trick either, not even the three-minute "Mr. Ice Cream Man" skit in which an ice cream truck driver uses his sweet, cold treats as a cover for his dirty dealings. In the end, he robs the neighborhood kids for their nickels, quarters, skateboards, baseball cards, lunch money, locker combinations, and PSPs. Kinda funny, in a twisted way, but it's too similar to one of the side missions in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (you sell drugs out of an ice cream truck) to warrant more than a listen or two.
Even the obligatory Soopaman Luva episode, broken into two parts, comes off as a mundane rescue story. This marks the sixth installment in the Soopaman Luva series, much like EPMD's troubles with "Jane" on their albums. Maybe it's time, as Redman himself suggests in the prelude, to retire Soopaman Luva's cape the way the folks at Marvel Comics retired Captain America (well, maybe without using a sniper's bullet). Likewise, the weed-inspired "Merry Jane" is equally predictable, with a cameo from Snoop and Nate Dogg, and a vocal sample from "Mary Jane" by Rick James. Come on, admit it. You would've been more intrigued with a guest appearance from Willie Nelson, right? Moreover, Nelson and Redman could stage a smoking contest in one of the skits -- they could call it "Redman and Countryman" -- akin to Stephen Colbert's competition with Nelson over their "rival" flavors of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.
Lastly, as well executed as this album is, some of the lyrics sound too familiar, such as: plays on the old Parkay vs. butter commercials; references to E.T. the Extraterrestrial and the act of "phoning home"; quips involving that famous shoe company's "Just Do It" slogan; or any punch line related to the movie Die Hard, Bruce Willis, or Willis's character John McClane. While we're at it, there should be an immediate ban on overused lyrics in which rappers are "slick" like "Rick", "dope" as any drug, "sick" as any disease, "raw" like "sushi", or "wrapping" the game like a "Christmas gift".
There are also a few repetitive hooks, like the D.O.C.-styled chorus of "Gimmie One" ("one, and then to the two to the three and four") or chanting "one time for your motherf*ckin' mind" in "Bak In Da Building". While the beats are consistently good, boasting fresh uses for old school samples from Marvin Gaye, Blondie, Al Green, Love Unlimited Orchestra, and Bob Marley, you'll nevertheless find musical moves that suggest Redman is following rather than leading, like letting Timbaland recycle his beat from LL's "Headsprung" for Red's "Put It Down", Scott Storch's Neptunes-like production on "Freestyle Freestyle" (I keep expecting to hear someone say, "Grind-DING!"), or the collaboration with vocalist Melanie Rutherford on "Wutchoogonnado" that suggests a nod to "You Know I'm No Good" by Ghostface Killah and Amy Winehouse.
At the end of the day, Red Gone Wild is classic Redman, despite my complaints that Redman could have upped the ante and gone nuttier. I can't decide if he wanted to streamline his approach to ensure wider appeal or if he's simply content to rely on his natural talent. Either way, Red Gone Wild is a strong piece of work with continuous bounce, easily a popular hip-hop release for the year.