After days of soul searching, struggle, wrestling with angels and the absent U-God Himself (QUOTH THE U-GOD FROM VOLUME I: “Before we got Germanic and thoughts got sporadic…” POINT TAKEN U), I’ve finally come to the determination that I don’t love Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II as much as I should. Like Job when he came face to face with the Almighty and lost, I’m bewildered and don’t pretend to understand, but I take solace in the fact that the whole thing is made with untold skill, not unlike Leviathan (NOT the Mastodon album, though my feelings toward it are similar). Indeed! Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a hook? Bitch? I don’t think so! Nor shouldst you expect to draw out Cuban Linx II with hooks, cuz they’re not there. There’s nothing to hang onto, nothing to grab. You want grabby, go listen to K’Naan.
But forget what I just said! Because every time I listen there’s more and more — like you’re, what, surveying the surface of Leviathan and seeing all the little details, all the scars of, um, harpoons past? With that, we retire the metaphor and instead listen to one of these songs I DO love, a battle-hardened harpoon scar incarcerated on larceny and arson, see — you Johnny Carson, son, a farce to me:
Anyway, this tune’s handy for comparing different flow styles. Inspectah Deck (verse 1) and Method Man (verse 4, 3:32) offer what I’ll call “complex sung” verses until world-historical hip-hop scholar Adam Krims deigns to advise me otherwise. Meth bases his rhyme schemes around a four-bar, three-rhyme pattern:
NIGgasAIN’T.SHIT.TOus / –.STILLaPIS_TOLbust /
*split*yourMELonLIKEi / SPLIT.THEdutch
He messes around with that pattern throughout the verse. My favorite variation comes later in the verse where he pushes the second rhyme to beat 1 of bar three:
WHOLE_LINEofCLAS_SICjoints / –andWHILEyouATitPASS_ /
THEjoint*let’sPUSHthisMUSic / PAST_THEpoint*
And Meth LOVES his syncopated syllables here. Listen to the end of his verse, where he’s practically chewing his off-beat “ch” sounds:
MY_TIMEtoGO.FORsure / *yaNIGgaGOES_TOwar /
–whatch–yaTHINKiBROUGHTthese / SOL_DIERSfor*toSEND. /
SHOT.LIKEforGET.MEnots / *atANyNIGgaRESpect /
*bitch*thatFIGureTHEYgon’ / GET.MEgot*
Deck is a little more varied, but is basically playing around with a similar four-bar pattern of three rhymes:
OFF_LIKEaMOB_STERboss / –.ANgelHAIR_WIT’the /
LOB_STERsauce–.SUMmer / TIME.CAN’T_TOP_THEscorch
He nearly always pauses for an empty beat between phrases. (Meth would, too, except he fills his empty beats with those chewy syncopated “bitch”es and whatnot, that anticipate the next phrase.) While Deck changes his phrase lengths, he ends every rhyme on beat 2 or 4 — an opening verse that’s good and solid, but not too off-kilter.
Both of those guys offer up lots of stuff to hang onto — regular patterns of rhythm and rhyme, beat-long rests separating phrases — that makes it easier to grasp their words and rhythmic variations. Between those “complex sung” verses, we’ve got the “definitely speech effusive” Raekwon (verse 2, 1:53) and Ghostface Killah (verse 3, 2:53), who occasionally nod to regular rhyme patterns, but mostly do away with them altogether. They also rarely place more than an empty half-beat between phrases, because they’ve got too much language and murder to cram in. BUT they throw us some crumbs: in the middle of their verses they break up the chaos of their attacks with strong on-beat lines. Rae’s got:
FLY_CRI_TERiA_ / BURyMEinAFriCAwith /
WHIPS_ANDspears–andROUGH_ / DIAmondsOUTofSYriA_ /
— while Ghost gives us:
MILiATE.BRUtalIZE. / RUgerPOP.PULverIZE. /
STILL_GOT_GEARinTHEclo / SET.THAT’S_STUpidLIVEfrom
These are like little islands we, their humble listeners, can process before they flip into insane shit like Ghost’s:
BENetTON_RUGbySKUL / LIES.OSH_KOSHconDUCTor /
JUMpers*theTRAIN_HATS_ / FIT*MEloveLY.
Given all these similarities, it’s nice of Rae and Ghost to sound so dissimilar. Rae’s all quiet burn, while Ghost always reminds me of some unhinged free jazz trombone solo. He’s one of the most musical rappers I can think of, even though he’s nearly always speech effusive and rarely “sung” (though I haven’t heard his new smooth R&B CD — further research).
As I look over Rae’s verse, I’m seeing that he breaks up his phrases with empty beats a little more than Ghost does, giving us bewildered listeners a chance to appreciate lines like these on first hearing:
SPEAK.WIT’theYOUTHinTHEspot / *.EATtheFRESH_FRUITin /
THEcrop–.ALLtheseHIP. / HOPpersEATcock*.YOUcan
SEEmeINtheSTREETorTHEyacht / –i’dRAtherBEproMOTin’ /
YOURblock*orBUYin’FRESH– / SNEAKersWITHgwops
Let me just reiterate how, as in Meth’s verse, I LOVE the rhymes landing on beat 1. And part of that LOVE comes from the fact that it frustrates my expectation of where they SHOULD land (on beat 2 or 4), an expectation that exists partly from Deck’s Verse One patterns, but more from Rae’s ability to SEEM like he’s slipping into a typical “sung” pattern that we’ve heard somewhere before, where the rhymes end on 2 or 4. This ability is no doubt intuitive for Rae, as it is for all these guys. It’s sort of like how a jazz soloist will have all kinds of licks and melody fragments at her disposal, deploy them selectively, and wickedly exploit listeners’ memories of those fragments by altering them at choice moments.
Ghost makes the fewest nods to typical “sung” patterns, and is consequently the most exhausting of the four to listen to. Maybe this is a key to why this whole album hasn’t reached out and grabbed me yet — because it’s got a lot of Rae (obv) and Ghost, and they’re exhausting. If it was all Meth’s delicious syncopated stuff in fairly regular patterns, I’d have a better idea of what’s going on and would be annoying my family with more recitations by now. As it is, I’d’ve never heard Ghost’s Osh Kosh reference without looking at the words written out. So while I love listening to these speech effusive guys in small doses, because what they’re able to do is incredible, they’re a lot to take in. I appreciate Rae’s efforts, however meager, to give me something to hang onto.
(Originally pubished 11/11/09.)