September 29, 2010

A Reader's Gut Reaction: Canibus & Keith Murray - The Undergods (EP) (September 29, 2009)

(I had completely forgotten about this project. Today's Reader Review finds longtime contributor Dag Diligent tackling the Keith Murray and Canibus collaboration The Undergods, an EP which is exclusively available as an mp3 download only at this time, exactly one year after it first hit the Interweb. Be sure to leave some comments below.)

On the surface, Keith Murray and Canibus seem like a good combination, and not just because they first worked together on “Some Shit” from Murray's It's A Beautiful Thing. They have surprisingly similar backgrounds: both are both mid-level East Coast hip hop veterans who peaked in popularity over a decade ago. They are also somewhat cerebral emcees who sometimes delightfully confuse facts and spit nonsense because they can. Both men experienced early success and then watched their careers slide into oblivion. They have each made so many weak and reckless comeback attempts that they have virtually guaranteed that no one will check for their work, except for bloggers looking for an easy target. Like me.

But as a long-time hip hop head who bought Murray’s The Most Beautifullest Thing in This World in 1994, and followed the Canibus / LL Cool J battle as it played out on Hot 97, I can assure you that these two emcees are highly unbalanced and have a lot of baggage to overcome to create anything worth listening to. (Actually, all they need is just one good song, but somehow I don’t see it happening, as their potential for a comeback is that low.)

I mentioned that these two are quite an unbalanced team, and here’s why: Keith Murray is a genuine emcee while Canibus is a novelty act. Murray came up under the wing of Erick Sermon, earning his rep by dropping two decent albums The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World and Enigma. He has a disarming and engaging style that works well, balancing out the Def Squad trio by providing the middle ground between the boisterous Redman and the lethargic Erick Sermon. He is also one of the few emcees who actually sounds good over an Erick Sermon beat. His career was eventually disrupted by his anger issues, a prison sentence for assaulting a record label employee, and later on, his inability to secure decent beats.

Canibus, on the other hand, is a technically astute emcee who can pull together imaginative rhymes, but has absolutely no charisma. Everything about him seems gimmicky: his name is a bad pun, he always sounds “drama-school” angry, he seems to literally spits into the mic when he raps, some of his word choices make me cringe, and his college vocabulary is forced into every pretentious rhyme. He received enormous attention for rap-battling LL Cool J over some bullshit line about a tattoo on the song “4,3,2,1”, which led to a lot of radio play and a solo album. I know it’s unlikely, but I’ve always believed that his LL battle was somehow engineered by the record labels to (1) boost the sales of LL’s garbage album Phenomenon and (2) strongly introduce the next rap messiah, Canibus. The hype for Canibus was thick, but his debut album Can-I-Bus never came close to living up to expectations, so his career has been in the toilet ever since (except maybe for his stint in the Army, where at least he briefly pulled a regular paycheck). Oh, and his beats are always terrible.

The Undergods EP appears to be doomed. It features two has-been emcees who have never pulled good beats. Canibus is one of the two emcees. The other, Keith Murray, is actually very good friends with the sworn enemy of Canibus, LL Cool J. (Must have made for some awkward lunch breaks.) And the reviewer is biased (but at least respects Murray).

But at least the album contains only seven tracks.

You’ll know that Erick Sermon produced this beat within the first few seconds, as it follows his standard clean and boring approach. But the Chuck D. sample works well for a hook and adds some energy, especially within the song's boxing context. (It turns out that E. Serm produced about half the album, or to be more specific, the worst half.) Keith Murray sounds right at home on E's beat and almost reminds me of his Def Squad days. Canibus, on the other hand, is grating as usual.

The track begins with our friends calling themselves the Burnout Brothers, which is apparently their alternate group name. Which is a terrible idea, since Canibus insultingly calls his wack peers “sellout emcees with burned out skills” just two songs later. The beat is bad, and Murray’s voice is terrible on the chorus, too. Special guest star Tech N9ne is actually the worst of the three. Fuck.

The beat is overly busy, but it starts to bang once it gets going. Keith Murray rocks it perfectly, which just goes to show that, with improved production, Mr. Murray could still be a relevant player in the game. Canibus sounds rushed, but he earns his keep on this here (except for on his line, “How many hands am I holding up man? Four. I only got 2”). This is definitely the best that the Undergods have to offer.

This brand of sappy-smooth instrumental appears to be mandatory on the comeback albums of veteran emcees; on here, the style is solidly stuck in the mode of "Do G's Get To Go To Heaven?" by Richie Rich, which is never a good thing. Unsurprisingly, Erick Sermon is behind the boards, and he does his best to kill the track dead with a Hall & Oates bass line and a stock R&B hook. The Undergods sound just fine, but with this kind of beat, they never had a chance.

If there's one thing you can expect from a rap artist, it's a song about fronting, or more specifically, the cessation thereof. Keith Murray handles the chorus fairly well over another uninteresting beat by the Green Eyed Bandit.

Ah! The Keith Murray and Canibus that we all know and love stop by to give us exactly what we were expecting this entire time: an unbearable song. The boys found a producer worse than E. Serm in David "Gordo" Strickland, who also holds the honor of helping fuck up tracks for Method Man and Redman. It isn't humanly possible to rhyme hard enough to save yourself from this beat swallowing you whole. The hook in mind-numbingly bad, but you'll be hard pressed to make it that far with an instrumental this irritating. Also, I don’t know where Canibus comes up with his lines, but shit, they are awkward: “Your fingers smell like nicotine / before you touch the controls wash your hands clean / a human being with dreams that can only be seen by a machine with a L- RAD screen”.

Erick Sermon fumbles the whole "Burnout Brothers" concept by calling the boys the Smokeout Brothers right from the jump. The Bob Marley sample really slows down the track, but the beat was pretty lifeless to begin with, as it has more samples than a Sam’s Club on a Saturday. All the emcees get lost in the beat. Oh, and they added a Carlito's Way sound bite to the track just to make sure you remember that this duo peaked in the 1990s. (Think Pain In Da Ass from those early Jay-Z albums.)

THE LAST WORD: Avoid this shit. The lyrics on The Undergods are solid enough, especially if you're still a fan of Canibus, and overall this is a step up from the recent output from both emcees. But this album packs a wicked follow-up punch: you also have to be a fan of Erick Sermon’s recent production work to actually enjoy it. I’m no fan of Canibus, and while I respect Erick Sermon, his production can best be described as tired. He is a one trick pony, and I saw the trick way back in the 1990’s. So the only good thing about The Undergods is Mr. Keith Murray, and while he spits exactly as one would expect, he is clearly weighed down by his alliances. Pass on this one, except maybe for the track “No Brainer”.

-Dag Diligent

(Questions? Comments? Hate mail for what amounted to yet another critique of Canibus and his loss of relevancy in our chosen genre? Leave your thoughts below.)


  1. I was take-it-or-leave-it with the Undergods at first, now I never listen to them. Some of the lyrics are good but the name is about the most clever thing they have going. I share your feelings on Canibus and I always felt that Murray was a slightly more mainstream version of the former, not really to my taste.

    Actually I could have sworn I still had some of it on my computer but upon inspection, it's all "mysteriously" disappeared.

    Also Max, I believe I sent you a review for Freeway & Jake One's Stimulus Package, correct me if I'm wrong, I will send it again if I'm misaken.

  2. Canibus' beats are always terrible? Have you ever listened to Rip The Jacker?

  3. Mr. AquariusSeptember 29, 2010

    Speaking of Tech N9ne, I'd be interested to hear what Max thinks of the man's work (probably negative, but I'd still be a good read and something different from these other "blog rappers").

  4. djbosscrewwreckaSeptember 29, 2010

    I listened to this because I'd love for Keith Murray and Canibus to show their former skills and make an impact in the game, but it was as disappointing as I feared it would be. Production and concept wise it's all a bit tired. The emcees don't do too badly, but it makes you wanna listen to their early stuff more than listen to the EP again.

  5. For Tech, you kinda have teh same mentality as A.R. Marks with a "take it or leave it" type of attitude. You either love or hate Tech, I personally love him. That boy can spit, and while I hate most horrorcore kind of acts I can deal with him cause the guy has genuine talent IMO. Like I said, some people think he's the wackest on the earth.

    Anyways...what about this piece of shit? Oh yeah, nothing.

  6. i've been reading these reviews....i dont think u ppl even like hip hop, the hate for as y'all say it 'hip hop intro' wtf?
    and shit like this just pisses me off, i feel offended " If there's one thing you can expect from a rap artist, it's a song about fronting, or more specifically, the cessation thereof."

    are u serious?

    nice site, though
    but stop with the bullshit...or am i being too 'hood' right now?

  7. A.R. - It's currently being edited down. I swear I sent you a confirmation email. SOrry if it slipped my mind.

    Thanks for reading! And we call it the "rap album intro", thanks.

  8. (Author)
    @Anonymous. For the record: I love hip hop, which is why I write about albums like this. I hate that talented veteran level emcees like Keith Murray and Canibus working with a production legend like E. Serm can put out such a bad album. I honestly think it shows contempt for the listener. Like “we’ll throw some shit together and they’ll buy it…they buy anything.”

    Believe me; I wanted this album to be a classic and this combination of talent could have pulled it off.

    Oh, and I like a little bullshit. After all, I listened to this album all the way through several times.

    Thanks for the feedback.

  9. @evan
    the only reason rip the jacker has hot beats is because stoupe produced it and canibus had absolutely nothing to do with anything more than recording the vocals.
    im gonna throw this out there and say that the rapping is easily the weakest part of rip the jacker

  10. Max:
    That'll do for a confirmation. I might have missed it honestly, I didn't have internet for like a month.

    I really, really like Tech N9ne lyrically but I can't listen to his music. I have that problem with a lot of rappers, especially Eminem.

    Are you also being too "hood" to leave a name? Nobody has to like rap album intros (we call them that because that's what they are), nor repetitive subject matter. If you're not tired of hearing rappers talk about fronting more power to you, but I like rappers that talk about new shit.

  11. Mr. AquariusSeptember 30, 2010

    Tech is great, but he has real shitty taste sometimes. That and he needs (a) stable producer(s) to help him out with more consistent hot beats. His albums can be pretty spotty, and his last one I didn't like at all.

    Back on topic, just downloaded this. Did absolutely nothing for me. Not bad, but nothing I ever really care to listen to again.

  12. look, first off is this site a personal blog or somethin? if it is, the disrespectful shit is cool, buttttt, if u'r seriously reviewing an album and u'r putting out there for the world to see you can not say shit like e.sermon is wack, u just cant, that's disrespectful to the man's legacy and the work he put in for hip hop, and i dont care if its your punk ass opinion...its like saying 'micheal jackson can't dance'. yeah sure its your opinion but its bullshit...just like the reviews of get rich or die trying and the purple tape, is this place trying to be a credible site? i sure do hope it is, but with little shit like

    @ dag dilligent ...did u really expect this to be a classic? its 2010! keith and canibus are way past their prime, i was just expecting something i could listen to once and a while, keep it real with yaselves

    and i understand this is a place for rap nerds, but come on, some of these reviews are bugged out like LOL bugged out

    that is all

  13. I like this last comment. "yeah sure its your opinion but its bullshit." That pretty much sums up every single comment on this blog. No need for anyone else to speak, folks: this anonymous commenter who refuses to leave his name has spoken for all of us! I may as well hang up my hat and call it a day!

    Oh, wait, no.

  14. So I'm pretty much the biggest Canibus fanboy on here... and even I wouldn't want to be within 200 meters of this shit. I tried to put "Die Big Time" on my ipod, but that didn't work out.

  15. this nigga.....ok, my name Rui Ramos and i'm 25 years old, happy now?

    and your taking my words out of context, if u'r gonna quote me, quote the whole thing

    and just another example of this site's craziness...u said the intro on supreme clientele was useless?? ...kinda corny shit is that? lol

    keep up the good work, though (Y)

  16. Speaking of reader reviews that are submitted, I'm wondering if you received my review for "The Geto Boys", Max? I never got any confirmation so I'm curious if you missed it or anything.

  17. Evan: Rip the Jacker was produced by Stoupe the Enmy of Mankind, one of teh finest producers around (Who also has a regular job aparently). Good review as always. I've never been a fan of Canibus, his voice puts me off and it seems as though heis trying to use long words instead of actual lyrical skill.

  18. I was thinking of listening to this EP again lately.

    Cos even though I recall being nonplussed by it first time round, I did like Melatonin Magik and thought I'd give this another try.

    Guess I'll dead that movement now.