(For today's Reader Review, Oskari Kiiskinen tackles Paleface, from Finland, and his debut album The Pale Ontologist, in an attempt to prove that hip hop truly isn't dead – we're just looking in the wrong places. Let him know what you think when you're done.)
Some brief history: Paleface, born Karri Miettinen, is one of the first Finnish rappers to surface from the basements, which makes him a pioneer of Finnish hip-hop. Karri raps in English, and because of that, he has had some moderate success outside of his home base. Outside of his solo career, Karri is part of a collective called Conscious Youths, with Mr. Singh, fellow Finn ReDrama and Promoe, who specialize with focusing on conscious rap for the youth (as their crew name suggests).
Paleface's solo debut, The Pale Ontologist, was 'da bomb' back in 2001. Even though Finnish hip-hop was still very much on the ground level back then, The Pale Ontologist was appreciated by the critics, the media, and the fans, a feat rare for an album of any genre, let alone a hip-hop album. The album has matured with time, but still sounds as fresh as ever today, which is a rainy day, perfect for reviewing this cornerstone of a scene that is already way past it's bedtime.
1. ONE MAN FLEW AWAY (INTRODUCTION TO THE PALE ONTOLOGIST)
The intro, and it's a weird one, folks. If I didn't know better, I'd say this was ripped off from some scary movie. A scary hip-hop movie. With Vanilla Ice playing the hero & Curtis Jackson playing the final boss. Too much? Okay, on we go.
2. MAXIMIZE THE PROPHET
Catchy tune? Check. Catchy chorus? Check. Kickin' bass? Check. Random acoustic notes to bring the artsy-feel? Double check. This is one of the songs I've loved ever since I picked this album up in 2001. Paleface comes through with his now-trademark “preachy” voice. Overall, a very classic-sounding rap song, with some good punchlines and social commentary. Could have done without the talking bits and the ridiculously long outro, though.
3. THE ICONOCLAST (FEAT JONNY BRO)
The first twenty-two seconds remind you of Mobb Deep and can very easily fool you into thinking you've stumbled upon a hip-hop masterpiece. However, the five minutes that follow don't match up, sadly. The sound becomes repetitive and dull, and the beat just doesn't hold your attention. Still, the lyrics are good overall with some classic bars, and the delivery is pretty awesome: “Sudden faith turns the shark into the hunted / Living dead giving head to the undead / Imagine that...”
4. BACK TO SQUARE ONE (DIRTY ORIGINAL)
Enough with the spoken intros, seriously. This is my favorite song in Paleface's repertoire, and arguably one of the biggest classics in Finnish hip-hop. Groovy, cheery, catchy as swine flu and filled with references you need to look up on Wikipedia in order to appreciate (well, I had to, anyway). Paleface really knows how to use his voice effectively to add a level of depth rarely seen in hip-hop. And I swear the hook is cursed, it's stuck with me for what, almost ten years now? Almost as bad as the Ducktales theme song. Before you know it, you're back to “Ducktales! Whoo-ooh!”
5. KEEP HOPE A LIE
Exit turntables, enter violin. After a forty second intro that sets the mood, the beat kicks in, and it's a good one, too. Think Xzibit's “Paparazzi”, but with half the budget. But while the lyrics on“The Iconoclast” were better than the beat, on here the instrumental clearly outshines everything else. The hook is also quite annoying. To me, it seems like Paleface was trying to do too many things at once, and went for too much depth this time. Not my cup o' tea.
6. DOVE ON A GREASY PLATE
I hated this song when I first heard it, and I still hate it now. I think it's a song you either loathe or love, depending on your take on classic Drum 'n Bass/Jungle. This is what happens when you take “artistic exploration” too far: a mixture of jungle and a half-assed Jamaican accent (that's what I think he was going for, anyway). This calls for a new genre definition: Headache-Hop 'n Drum.
7. ALL I NEED IS JUST A LIL' TIME (FEAT FATHER METRO)
This song could easily bore you to tears if you're not in the right mindset. On the other hand, the lyrics are pretty interesting and the beat is relaxing and easy on the ears. It also features Father Metro of Don Johnson Big Band fame spoiling us with a rather captivating flow, which adds some spice to the mix.
8. SENSORY DEPRIVATION
Scratching just for the heck of it? Hell yeah, an extra large serving please. This is actually a rather heavy and multi-dimensional song. The lyrics are playful, yet serious, and those of us obsessed with politically/socially conscious music will find this very interesting and captivating. However, those looking for something simple and easy will hit the skip button very quickly. A sample: “Despite my uncontrollable obsession with mammary glands / I see glam-rock bands turn to goths in front of camera stands.”
9. MOLOCH (WHOSE BLOOD IS RUNNING MONEY, WHOSE FINGERS ARE TEN ARMIES)
After listening for about thirty seconds, I had to check my calendar to see whether I had dropped acid within the last twelve hours or not. Turns out I hadn't. If you've seen the Luis Bueñel movie Un Chien Andalou, just imagine that uneasy weirdness, but in musical form. Simply put, this is weird, boring and artsy, and the person responsible for mixing this needs to be put out of their misery.
10. EMCEES SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS
A clever reference to a television show I'm sure none of you have heard of before. Paleface takes us back to the 1990s with this one, and I'm lovin' it. Just honest and pure hip-hop; nothing too fancy here. I hate to admit it, but I have no idea what Paleface is saying or referring to here most of the time, but the parts I do get are on point.
11. THE ULTIMATE JEDI MIND TRICK (EPISODE IV)
I really want to like this song, but so far my attempts have been futile. It was originally released as the lead single, before “Back To Square One” took over, and there's a video for it too (it's on YouTube, but it's pretty... well, maybe you should just see for yourself), but it never really caught on like the two singles that came afterwards (“Back To Square One” and “Maximize The Prophet”). It's trying hard to be as “hard” as possible, and while it doesn't fail completely, it doesn't really succeed either (I suspect the Star Wars references might have had a negative impact on the street cred, and since I've never seen a Star Wars movie some of the references flew right over my head). Not easily approachable.
FINAL THOUGHTS: On his first mainstream effort, Paleface combines weird with simple, old with new, playful with intelligent and interesting with boring. Whether this mixture is easy to swallow is arguable, but it's safe to say that while this album doesn't have something for everyone, it certainly has something for somebody. I think the most profane thing said on The Pale Ontologist is the phrase “mammary glands”, so it's family friendly, and yet the content is intellectual enough to attract mature listeners too (to me, the lack of profanity is a sign of maturity as well). The album is rather short, lasting only ten songs and an intro, and while most of them seem lengthy when I write about them, there is quite a bit of talking in almost every song. Still, there are no fillers, and all of the songs can stand on their own. If you look at it objectively, The Pale Ontologist is quite average. However, some of the songs are the kind that might last ten years of active listening easily, as they have for me. The Pale Ontologist is definitely worth checking out if you're interested in European hip-hop, and I'm willing to bet that there's at least one song here that you will love.
BUY OR BURN? If you can find a copy somewhere, buying is not a bad idea, but I don't think Paleface (who, by now, has three solo albums and quite a few other releases under his belt) will mind it if you burn.
BEST TRACKS: ”Back To Square One”; ”Maximize The Prophet”; ”Sensory Deprivation”
(Thoughts? Concerns? Do you want to see more write-ups of non-American rap artists, or would you rather stick with the rivers and lakes that you're used to? Let me know!)