When this record debuted on the Billboard Album Charts at #1, I think everyone was pretty damned surprised. Twista? Hell, his last album dropped like five years ago! He's been around for 10 years without getting even a whiff of fame like this. I still remember him as Tung Twista, the novelty artist whose whole steez was really fast rapping, when he had that disgusting long slurping animated tongue thing going on. But now? #1? Knocking OutKast out? Twista?
Of course, the fact that "Slow Jamz" is all over the radio and MTV right now has a lot to do with it, and rightly so, so it was inevitable that this record would blow up somewhat. Part of people's fascination with this song is that Kanye West produced it and raps on it, so it's good for Twista that The College Dropout hasn't dropped yet. But the major part of it all is that "Slow Jamz" is one of the finest rap singles in many years, a truly amazing piece of pop magic that is ABOUT pop music and its impact on the soul. (Actually, it's about pop nostalgia and how to use that to get sex, but don't tell anyone I said so. "Impact on the soul" sounds nicer.)
From the Jamie Foxx-sung hook ("I want some Marvin Gaye / Some Luther Vandross / A little Anita / Definitely set this party off right") to the trademark sped-up sample of Luther singing "A House Is Not a Home" to West's swaggering opening verses ("I'm-a play this Vandross / You gon' take your pants off"), it's already really great; everyone quotes the joke about "She got a light-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson / Got a dark-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson" line, but I think "My dog said you ain't no freak / So you got to prove my man wrong" is even better. So it's an ace single for slow-dancing already, but then West's genius kicks it into overdrive in two ways. First off, he kicks some self-deprecation, as sexy guest Aisha Tyler drops into one speaker to urge him to "do it faster, baby, do it faster!" and he protests, "Damn, baby, I can't do it that fast, but I know someone who can... Twista!"
At which point Twista drops in and blows the whole shit up for real. Seriously, I don't think anyone has ever been able to rap faster and more accurately than Twista. He packs more syllables into a measure than anyone, even Lyrics Born at his most mumbly or Busta in his prime: "No matter how much of a thug you see / I still spit it like it's R&B / Come to the club with me / And with some Luther come on / I hope you're feelin me / You'll still-a be in love with me" takes six seconds, and six beats, for Twista. He drops in punning references to 1980s R&B groups, he insinuates, he wheedles and coaxes and flexes, he pronounces every syllable perfectly, and it's just your ears' fault that they cannot keep up.
But where in the past Twista has been pigeonholed as "the guy who raps really fast", he's aiming higher on Kamikaze. In some ways, this threatens to be a concept album about his lack of respect. The opener, the gothick 6/8 battle-rap "Get Me", is all about how Twista and his beloved hometown of Chicago have gotten no respect in the rap game, and this theme is repeated throughout the disc. In "Kill Us All", Twista is so mad about this that he begins with one of the most disturbing and cinematic images I can remember in a #1 album: "I feel like / Standin' in the midst of a hundred thousand haters / Dynamite you see full strapped around my waist / Bloody tears in my eyes / Hit the switch / Makin' sure that every single motherfucker in the vicinity blow away and die."
So in order to avoid having to become a suicide bomber, Twista has called in posse from all over. He gets homeboy R. Kelly to hook him up on the actually sexy "So Sexy" (nothing is cooler than focusing your lust on Chicago's fine population of hard-working and professional women, although the chorus about loving the women that ride the D and love the D could probably go). The ATL coalition is in effect, with Ludacris' hilarious work on "Higher" and the guest spots of T.I. and Liffy Stokes on the highly sexist but electro-bouncin' "Like a 24". And there's no way to get around the beautiful voice of Cee-Lo, who turns the chorus of "Hope" into something truly to be hoped for, while Twista raps about missing dead homeys and wanting everyone to live forever and that his brother could get out of jail and his grandma wasn't sick and that his "super-homey Christopher Reeves could still walk" (sic).
The most fascinating of these collaborations is on "Sunshine", where soul god Anthony Hamilton drops in to ring some changes on the Bill Withers song "Lovely Day" while Twista justifies all levels of capitalism at once: "Love for the corporate players that's ballin,' rollin' Jags / Love for the thug niggaz who get it on the ave / Love for those who can make a mill and sit back and laugh / And love for the fine strippers who get it poppin' ass / Love for the single parents that's workin' through the struggle / Love for those that's gotta make a livin' movin' muscle." Twista's just a big hippie! He loves everyone!
But mostly, he loves them hoez. "Pimp On" is the least charming thing here, especially with 8 Ball and Too $hort as his guests, but it illustrates the other theme on the album, which is that Twista REALLY REALLY loves women's asses. This theme is underscored most directly in "Badunkadunk", but also in the P.Funk homage "Drinks" (every woman he knows reminds him of a different alcoholic beverage, especially when they're strippers named Moet and Cristal) and the boasty "Snoopin'". Again, this is one of those records that's meant to be enjoyed around adults, but will probably find its way into the vocabularies of many many teenage boys who will not be the better off for Twista's sexual politics.
I also want to give producer Toxic some love here. Conventional wisdom holds that the Kanye West tracks (oh damn I forgot to talk about "Overnight Celebrity", it's brilliant, oh well) are the only good thing about this, but it's not true; Toxic brings some Chi-fire on many of these tracks too, as do some other local talents like Wildstyle and The Legendary Traxter. They're not flashy, but neither is Chicago mostly-they do the job without calling too much attention to themselves, kinda like good point guards who set it up for the big dog.
Twista here proves that he's a big dog, worthy of major-league status, officially escaping the label of novelty act, and repping the Chi. It's already a great year for Chicago hip-hop, and think what will happen when Kanye's album and the new non-hippie Common disc both drop later this year. Good times in the Windy City, yo. 2004.