Contrary to popular opinion, I am not the only guy who believes that Canibus lost his battle with LL Cool J. But allow me to show my work: I never said that Cool James bested Germaine Williams lyrically. Although I prefer LL's response over “Second Round K.O.” any day of the week (since I still believe that including Mike Tyson on your dis track, allowing him to brag about “eat[ing] MC's”, is in extremely poor taste), I won't waste my breath arguing against Germaine's delivery, as what he says is infinitely more interesting than anything James Todd Smith talks about today. But the problem I have with Canibus is that I don't give a fuck about him, and the majority of the hip hop audience clearly feels the same way, and not just because LL Cool J is the guy who still works today (albeit in the acting sector of the entertainment industry).
Just take a look at the man's career trajectory: Canibus went from being a gifted lyrical beast who would tear every cameo appearance handed to him to shreds, to becoming a guy who uses his vast vocabulary as a crutch, resorting to his ten-dollar words simply to exert dominance in our chosen genre when the occasion would just as easily call for an entertaining verse. The man never learned how to write a song, not even when he was under the tutelage of Wyclef Jean (who, like it or not, is an international superstar, and probably knows a thing or two about doing just that), he has no idea how to capture an audience's attention, and his ear for selecting beats has been infected since his time spent in the womb. Canibus is a man who refused to learn from his mistakes, choosing to kick-start ridiculous beefs with other, higher-caliber artists in an effort to re-brand his name on hip hop blogs: in the present day, I understand that he has apparently picked fights with both DJ Premier (seriously, dude? Are you fucking retarded?) and Royce da 5'9”, two guys who will continue to enjoy the fruits of their labor long after Canibus finally accepts his fade into oblivion. His beef with Eminem, which still doesn't make much sense to me, is also fresh on his mind. When it comes down to it, his problem with LL Cool J was the only justified battle in his entire career: all of this other petty shit smacks of Canibus getting his feelings hurt and, instead of confronting the perpetrator and talking it out in a mature manner, choosing to air out his dirty laundry without the aid of context, hoping to win back some fans before they realized that he was in the wrong.
Canibus seems to make his living by burning pretty much every single bridge that has been presented to him: when was the last time you saw Germaine make a guest appearance on someone else's album? The man has very few friends left in the industry who are willing to put up with his bullshit (I count Keith Murray and the other three members of the Four Horsemen as his only remaining allies, but those guys don't wield much influence in our chosen genre these days), leaving him to his own devices, as his mind twists and warps the world around him into a place suitable for living, all because he failed to compromise his style, delivery, and rhymes (which wouldn't be a terrible thing, had his style, delivery, and rhymes not grown stale back when he was rhyming with the Lost Boyz), and because he refused to fucking listen to anybody who was willing to help him out. Canibus also doesn't know how to accept blame for anything, passing off the failure of his debut, Can-I-Bus, to executive producer Wyclef, and the middling sales of his other two projects to the labels in question.
Conversely, LL Cool J will always be a part of the hip hop culture, even if he never records another album (which, hopefully, he won't, given the quality of his later output), because he has the back catalog to prove his worth, and the only bridge he burned in the industry was, well, the one with Canibus. (LL had issues with both Jay-Z and Kool Moe Dee in the past, but I'm willing to bet that any bad blood between them has long since faded.) Shit, if Cool James walked off of the set of N.C.I.S. Los Angeles next Thursday and decided that he wanted to record another rap album for the “streets”, I have absolutely no doubt that he would have his pick of the litter when it came to securing beats from the best producers in the game (I'm talking Pete Rock, Marley Marl, The RZA, some older Dilla donuts, the aforementioned DJ Premier, and their ilk), based on the clout his name still holds. No matter what LL Cool J does with his career, he will always have the respect of hip hop as a whole, whereas Canibus has become the laughingstock of the community, albeit a laughingstock that still spits decent verses every once in a while.
So clearly, LL Cool J won the war.
However, Germaine isn't an idiot. He may refuse to accept blame for his own failures, but he is at least cognizant enough to realize that his fanbase is dwindling at an alarming rate. His album-length Eminem obsession, C! Tru Hollywood Stories, certainly didn't give him much of a leg to stand on. So when he recorded his fourth full-length album, Mic Club: The Curriculum, he tried his best to respond to the criticism of his earlier work, attempting to select better beats (mostly from unknown producers, but he scores a single instrumental from future collaborator Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind, of Jedi Mind Tricks fame) while essentially giving up on learning how to write a proper song: he figured that the fans that remained preferred to simply hear the man spit straight through a track for five minutes plus. He's not wrong: the reason people gave a damn about Canibus in the first place was because of his freestyles (which in no way were created on the spot, not with the way Germaine carefully crafted his bars) and his showstopping guest appearances on the albums of his then-peers.
Mic Club: The Curriculum is built around the conceit that Canibus is a professor trying to teach the youth about what he believes hip hop to be. Either that, or he's a student trying to re-learn his craft. The theme isn't quite clear. Regardless, the fourth album from Germaine Williams clearly finds the man at a roadblock, trying to find his way around the obstacles in his path in order to continue his day job as a guy who recites words to a beat for a living.
As my understanding is that Canibus was seriously trying to redeem himself after the artistic failures laying in his wake, I promise to give Mic Club: The Curriculum a true shot during my initial listen. No, seriously, I'm not kidding. Regardless of what I wrote above, I have no preexisting bias for or against Mic Club: The Curriculum. I've never listened to it before: how would that even be fucking possible?
1. MIC CLUB INTRO
Germaine spits a quick verse using a guttural growl that acts in sharp contrast to the way he usually sounds behind the mic. This is still a rap album intro, so it's ultimately useless, but at least Canibus avoids the trappings of C! Tru Hollywood Stories by not attempting to set up an ongoing storyline. Let's see where he goes with this.
2. POET LAUREATE
The DJ Kemo instrumental grows more and more annoying as the nearly five-minute runtime goes on, but at least it sounds much more conducive to a glorified freestyle session (as that is exactly what “Poet Laureate” is for our host) than some of his previous work. Germaine tackles the microphone and kicks bars for seemingly forever without the need of a chorus (or an editor, but that's neither here nor there), and truth be told, this type of shit is exactly what the man's few remaining fans want to hear. So why the fuck doesn't he just take twelve of these type of songs and call that his next album? Truth be told, this wasn't bad, although I would have preferred if the beat adjusted itself a bit throughout. Can't have it all, I suppose.
3. MASTER THESIS
Part of the reason Canibus is no longer relevant to hip hop heads is because he only functions on two speeds: battle-rhyme and lengthy, lyrically obtuse tangents. His lack of versatility has sealed his fate. However, when the man is on, he is fucking on, and “Master Thesis” is a prime example of that. Over a simple and yet banging Kyros instrumental, Germaine lays into a nearly four-minute-long one-verse wonder spanning a wide, goofy range of topics (most of which revolve around academia, so as to stick with the underlying theme of Mic Club: The Curriculum) and hits the mark, delivering the sequel to Can-I-Bus's “Buckingham Palace” that nobody knew they wanted. This one song is what I'm sure the entirety of 2000 B.C. (Before Can-I-Bus) was supposed to sound like. Pretty nice, if you can get around his pretentious use of wordplay.
4. BEHIND ENEMY RHYMES
And here is the opposing side of that argument. “Behind Enemy Rhymes”, with its poppy instrumental that Canibus doesn't seem sure what to do with, earns an automatic “skip” from anyone still listening at this point, thanks to our host's penchant for overestimating the audience's attention span for bizarre threats, wordy hooks, and ten-dollar words that I'm not even convinced he knows the definitions to at this point. A word to the wise: this is why aspiring rappers shouldn't just take a film title and change a word or two to fit your needs, as the shit will not make any fucking sense. Besides, why would you name your song after any non-Wes Anderson Owen Wilson movie?
5. ALLIED META-FORCES (FEAT. KOOL G RAP)
It could be argued that, had Canibus never signed a solo record deal and instead focused on his craft exclusively with cameos on other high-profile projects, his time in the spotlight may have extended much further than his two main competitors in his field in the late 1990s, DMX and Busta Rhymes. The man simply sounds good as a part of an ensemble cast: a little of Germaine goes a long way. (This alternate path was never going to actually happen, as our host's fate was sealed when LL Cool J reneged on his promise to alter his “4,3,2,1” verse, leading Canibus to respond with a solo dis track, but it's still nice to dream once in a while.) So this collaboration actually works, for the most part. Canibus and Kool G Rap may not have been in the studio at the same time to actually record it, but they still somehow come across as feeding off of each other's energy, so the performances were alright. Too bad the instrumental was bland as fuck.
6. CENIOR STUDIES 02
If you never cared much for Canibus before, “Cenior Studies 02” won't change your mind: this long-winded one-verse wonder, in the vein of “Poet Laureate” and “Master Thesis” is nearly impenetrable, save for when our host panders to the audience by quoting MC Hammer. The man is a decent writer, and he has a much broader vocabulary than most rappers in the game, but that doesn't mean that he should be ranked near the top of any list, as he spends too much of his personal time letting his mind float and paying zero attention to what his fans actually respond to. This song is the epitome of that lack of awareness.
7. “C” SECTION
PlusScience's instrumental sounds pretty fucking catchy: had it been attached to a more mainstream artist (I'm thinking Fabolous for some reason), it might have become a mild radio and club hit. So, obviously, Germaine sounds entirely out of place, especially when he ditches his bid for accessibility (his first ten bars or so could have possibly attracted some new fans, had things been different) and returns to his navel-gazing. When a rapper's only line of defense is to talk about how much of a better rapper he is than you will ever be, it makes sense when that same rapper eventually loses his audience: one-trick ponies don't get very far in our chosen genre. At least the beat was alright.
8. DRAMA A/T (FEAT. LUMINATI)
The beat is appropriately dramatic, but it lacks that epic feeling that it was clearly shooting for. Germaine's verse actually sticks to a theme, rattling off as many examples of what he feels can be described as “drama”, although more than a few of them are a stretch. Guest star Luminati, our host's invited guest (who, apparently, doubles as Germaine's (former) business manager, Louie Lombard III, interestingly enough), doesn't fare nearly as well: his verse sounds as though Killarmy's 9th Prince found Germaine's book of rhymes and decided to recite some passages at random. This was a bit too long for anyone's tastes, but at least our host sounded okay.
9. DR. C PHD
The Kyros beat was interesting, but once again, Canibus isn't a perfect fit: instead of even attempting to adapt to his surroundings, he stays in his lane, unaware that it turns into an exit-only ramp leading down to a frontage road of inadequacy in approximately half a mile. His random boasts and even more out-of-left-field threats sound heavily sound heavily mismatched to the instrumental, so toward the very end, when he takes a brief shot at Eminem, it's likely to fly right over the head of the listener, who probably won't give much of a fuck anyway.
10. BIS VS. RIP (FEAT. RIP THE JACKER)
As this song is over six minutes long, I assume that Germaine meant for this duel between the opposing sides of his psyche (coming across as a dis track aimed at himself, as hinted when he gave a guest-starring credit to his alter ego Rip The Jacker), to be the centerpiece of Mic Club: The Curriculum. For those who weren't aware (as I surely didn't care enough to become informed prior to throwing this disc into my computer), “Canibus” is a soft-spoken intellectual, prone to reasonable discussion and who probably drinks his tea with his pinky finger sticking out, while “Rip The Jacker”, the name itself a direct swipe at LL Cool J's song “Jack The Ripper”, is the guy we've heard the majority of Germaine's career, except for when the music sucked, which was often, when the songs were pawned off on “Canibus”. And, apparently, there can be only one. Our host makes some interesting points and proves that he is more self-aware than we may have believed, but this song was still self-serving and ultimately stale.
11. LIBERAL ARTS (FEAT. JEDI MIND TRICKS)
In what turned into an impromptu audition for his work handling all of the production on this project's follow-up, Rip The Jacker, Stoupe The Enemy Of Mankind provides the most complete-sounding instrumental on the entire album thus far, and yet, it doesn't hit quite as hard as his work with his Jedi Mind Tricks partner Vinnie Paz, who pops in to deliver a random verse that could have been applied absolutely anywhere, had he not made the mistake of mentioning our host's name within it. To his credit, Germaine sounds more comfortable on here than he has in a while, but this song wasn't anything to write home about.
12. CIRRICULUM 101
Sounds too similar to “Poet Laureate”, “Master Thesis”, and “Cenior Studies 02” for me to give much of a damn. These aren't songs: they're freestyles set to a beat (a point I realize I've already made), allowing nothing for the audience to latch on to. I don't need choruses in my rap songs, but I do require the artists to have a genuine interest in entertaining an audience that consists of more than just the guy in the mirror staring back at them. Sigh.
13. MIC CLUB OUTRO
Canibus delivers another verse on here, in a style similar to what he did on the intro, but it's fucking terrible, so it just doesn't matter. The beat-boxing near the end was an unexpected touch, though.
THE LAST WORD: Canibus has been consistently building a case for his expulsion from our chosen genre with his disappointing Can-I-Bus, the awful 2000 B.C. (Before Can-I-Bus), and the excrement simply known as C! Tru Hollywood Stories. Seemingly backed into a corner, Germaine Williams comes out swinging, and as a result, Mic Club: The Curriculum is actually much more entertaining than his previous three efforts, although that isn't saying a whole lot. He still sounds as though he writes his verses first, making sure to check his thesaurus to locate the most unnecessary synonyms possible, and then purchases a beat from the lowest bidder after the fact: he even mentions during at least one of the songs on here that he doesn't give a fuck about the actual music. Um, yeah, great career choice, motherfucker. For fans of lyrics alone, Canibus actually doesn't disappoint, but his style still isn't flexible enough to stretch out over a full-length project. Germaine starts strong (“Poet Laureate” and “Master Thesis” are actually pretty interesting tracks), and he coerces a grand guest appearance out of hip hop legend Kool G Rap (who will apparently work with absolutely anybody if the price is right), early on, but Mic Club: The Curriculum quickly falls apart, although, for once, the production isn't the real problem. The man simply sounds better when the dosage is concentrated into one or two cameo verses. I could end this write-up with a corny joke about not wanting to enroll in this particular curriculum, but that would be too easy.
There are some more Canibus-related posts to be found on the blog. This link will get you started.