May 13, 2011

My Gut Reaction: The Lonely Island (May 10, 2011)

To the dismay of many hip hop heads, comedy rap trio The Lonely Island (made up of Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg and his friends-slash former SNL writers Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer), have found a mild amount of success in the music industry, thanks to their humorous fake rap songs that adhere so closely to the current hip hop climate that it's blatantly obvious that they actually love this shit. They were nominated for a Grammy (for their T-Pain collaboration “I'm On A Boat”), their videos have been up for Emmy contention, and they have been able to keep the group going even while each member goes about their daily lives in the comedy world (unlike, say, the Wu-Tang Clan).

Turtleneck & Chain is The Lonely Island's second album, and it follows a similar formula as its predecessor, Incredibad, focusing on some of the hardest fake rap shit you've ever witnessed. While the project is mostly hip hop-related, they also attempt to actually sing at times, and they rope in some A-list guests to join in on the fun (including Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg, Rihanna, and...Michael Bolton?). As most of these tracks first saw life as popular Digital Shorts on SNL, it only makes sense that, just as Incredibad did two years ago, the album comes with a bonus DVD containing a bunch of their videos, including a couple for tracks that aren't even on Turtleneck & Chain.

That's all I got. I don't have much to say about The Lonely Island's Turtleneck & Chain. Man, that Tyler, The Creator post really took a lot out of me.

Over a surprisingly dope instrumental provided by Villanova and B-Sides, The Lonely Island drop a quick rap album re-intro to set the mood. Clearly these guys actually listen to current rap music: aside from what they actually rhyme about on here (topics range from penis problems to some Jorma-described “Garfield sex music”), this sounds exactly like some shit that your favorite third-rate rap group would put on their mixtape. The video, which the trio unleashed online a few weeks ago, also captures the feeling of a goofy rap posse cut, complete with goofy deejay drops. A nice way to start things off.

And then we're presented with this shit. The lone joke of this song grows tired during the reveal, but the trio insist on continuing on with their ode to their respective mothers anyway. One of them describes his mom as “an angel with a visible waist”, which I found kind of funny for some reason, but the rest of this track, especially the Eminem-esque singing during the chorus, didn't do it for me.

As much as it pains me to say it, Akon's mere presence actually helps this song work. I knew his Auto-Tuned subordinate T-Pain had a good sense of humor (see, once again, Incredibad's “I'm On A Boat”), but Akon, who has seen a bit of a career resurgence as of late (he also appeared on Dr. Dre's “comeback” single “Kush” at a time when he should be rolling around in a bank vault covered in Lady Gaga royalties, Scrooge McDuck-style), sounds so earnest while singing about just having had intercourse (as Samberg and Taccone keep trying to trip him up by singing some of the nerdiest descriptions of the fucking ever laid on wax) that he sells the shit out of Turtleneck & Chain's first official single. Not the best representation of The Lonely Island's patented “fake rap”, but it still sounds goofy and enjoyable today.

Fans of SNL may have caught the video for this track on the last episode, which, unfortunately, was produced too late to be included on the DVD. The concept is simple: the guys created a song for the clubs (a convincing one at that), while guest star Michael Bolton croons the R&B hook. Of course, shit is never really that simple: Bolton's hilarious chorus focuses on his obsession with the Pirates Of The Caribbean film series (hence the song's title) instead of picking up chicks at the club, and the guys are forced to work around it. Bolton's performance is a tour de force that actually justifies The Lonely Island bringing him back from the land of irrelevancy: although I flat-out refuse to listen to his older work (which I've always hated), it's good to know he has a sense of humor. The fact that, aside from some of Samberg's ad-libs during the hook, Akiva is the only guy to discuss Bolton's singing during his actual verses was also fucking genius. The joke gets old, but I thought the song was still funny. I've you've held your breath waiting for Michael Bolton to harmonize the words “pussy” and “fucked”, then you probably died seventeen years ago, but your death was not in vain.

Beck would seem like a good fit for The Lonely Island: anybody who has ever heard his “Debra” (off of Midnite Vultures) would agree that he can easily find the humor in his work. Which makes this glorified interlude so goddamn disappointing. The lyrics are meh, the joke gets old within thirty seconds, and, probably the worst offense of them all, Beck isn't given much to work with, even though he co-produced the goddamn beat. Sigh.

Turtleneck & Chain switches back to straightforward hip hop with this bizarre storytelling rap performed by Samberg, on which he describes the time he fought Rocky Balboa, Fresh Prince-style. The rhymes are actually pretty goddamn visual: you can picture the dude getting his ass handed to him with perfect clarity. DJ Nu-Mark (late of the Jurassic 5), who handled two tracks on Incredibad, returns to lace up a tight, yet simple instrumental (with some nice scratching at the end), leaving this track sounding so polished that you can probably see your soul in it.

A goofy interlude that sounds amusing the first time around, but you'll skip it every single fucking time afterward.

The guest star on this title track is too big for the trio to not do a Digital Short for it, but the current season of SNL is almost over, so oh well. Producer JMIKE gives the boys a convincing imitation of the shit I hear on the radio every single day before I give up and switch back to New Wave or college radio, and their verses, which consist of hilariously different ways to describe their turtlenecks, their chains, and the light beers they drink, play along nicely, as does Snoop, who actually gets the joke and runs with it admirably. If you don't at least smile while this song is playing, then you take rap music too goddamn seriously.

It's kind of weird that The Lonely Island included the sequel to the original “Shy Ronnie” (which began life as a Digital Short on SNL) when the original has never been made commercially available. The joke on here is the same as it was the first time around, though: Rihanna sings around Samberg's Shy Ronnie character as he quietly mumbles incomprehensible shit into the microphone...until she leaves, which is when he blooms. This song simply doesn't work without the visual aid, which at least featured Mad Men's Jon Hamm visibly excited at at Rihanna's throwaway “We're gonna have sex” line. Moving on...

Another storytelling rap, this time regarding a heist gone bad, although this track has a gross setup that only grows more and more juvenile as the story goes on. You can probably guess it from the title of the track. The raps are technically proficient, though, and the Villanova and B-Sides beat is, once again, pretty good, so it isn't a total loss. DJ Nu-Mark returns to provide scratches, Michael Bolton pops up again to provide his interpretation of a Scarface sound bite, and an ominous voice announces the song's title as though it were a grindhouse flick, which doesn't match the fake movie poster for this song included in the liner notes, but there are all just minor details.

In case you forgot Turtleneck & Chain is actually supposed to be a comedy album. Although this skit wasn't funny, so my previous sentence makes no goddamn sense. I guess you might find this amusing if you're a fan of The Neverending Story.

Two songs dedicated to mothers on an album that was released two days after Mother's Day? That's an odd coincidence. Samberg and The Social Network's Justin Timberlake resurrect their “Dick In A Box” Color Me Badd-esque personas for this track, which the former boy band member plays completely straight, even with the ridiculous shit coming out of his mouth throughout. This was technically released as a Digital Short a couple of years ago, but “I Just Had Sex” is considered the first single from this album. Weird. Not an actual rap song, but it serves its purpose.

Three words I never thought I would write on the blog: “featuring John Waters”. Although I abbreviated “featuring”, so I guess I didn't actually write those three words until the previous sentence. Whoops! This CHOPS production (yes, the same guy from the Mountain Brothers) is decent, and the trio sound appropriately Peeping Tom-esque, but the real surprise for me comes from Nicki Minaj, who does not sound good, but she plays along with the silliness like a grizzled veteran. I like people who don't take things too seriously, so that was nice. I also liked the guy wearing the T-Rex mask for a split second in the video: can someone make a GIF for me? Thanks much.

Jorma's take on one of the more ridiculous catchphrases rappers use today goes exactly in the direction you expect it to. At least it's short.

This is barely even a song, but I guess The Lonely Island thought the beat (by someone named Drew Campbell) was too good to waste. Samberg rides for dolo, proclaiming that, as an adult, he refuses to be “a part of the system”, all while completely misunderstanding the intentions of everyone around him. I laughed when the Digital Short debuted on SNL, but there was still no need to include this on Turtleneck & Chain.

Also not a rap song, but it's passable, as the trio do actually sing on here. The idea of this track is goofy: I won't give it away here, so you should listen to it for yourself at least the once. But I'm left wondering just how long ago this song was recorded: given the recent disasters in Japan, I'm kind of surprised that NBC Universal didn't drop it from the project out of sheer caution, even though the guys don't say anything bad about the country.

This take on a typical club-ready rap record is a spiritual cousin to, of all things, “Jizz In My Pants”, at least until it takes a severe left turn into, of all things, “Like A Boss” territory, but Samberg, performing solo yet again, sells me on the ridiculousness of the playboy lifestyle, and singer-for-hire Santigold is nice enough to not laugh in his face, even when she is asked to sing the phrase “no more jerking off”. Not bad.

The final song on Turtleneck & Chain directly addresses just how fucking stupid most rappers sound when they say things like “no homo” or “pause” immediately after mentioning something that could be misconstrued in a homosexual manner. The jokes escalate just as far as you would expect from these guys (who are eternally twelve years old, apparently), but they bring up an excellent point without even meaning to: does reciting “no homo” after your statement really alter the meaning of what you just said? As a plus, the production on here (from B-Sides) is borderline excellent (these guys sure as shit know where to buy their beats from), but the joke wears thin, not unlike how all of the jokes on Turtleneck & Chain do after a while.

As if to add a sense of legitimacy to the previous track, The Lonely Island tack this on as a reprise of sorts. Which was unnecessary.

Those who purchase Turtleneck & Chain from iTunes are presented with the following bonus track.

Probably the only goofy Lonely Island song to ever directly mention Saturday Night Live, with fellow cast member Kenan Thompson (of All That fame) playing along as an incredibly fucked-up version of Reba McEntire. I guess it's a decent bonus for fans who bought this online, but the video for this track still appears on the DVD, so if you bought a physical copy of Turtleneck & Chain, you're not missing much.

THE LAST WORD: Like most comedy albums, The Lonely Island's Turtleneck & Chain grows less and less funny with each subsequent listen. Unlike other comedy albums, though, Turtleneck & Chain is only moderately funny in the first place. None of the songs on here resonate in the same fashion as the best material on Incredibad, but to be fair, a lot of the material on Incredibad was already several years old when the disc was finally released, so The Lonely Island had time to gain more exposure: in contrast, the tracks on here are all relatively new and, as such, are untested. Andy, Akiva, and Jorma still have an obvious love and appreciation for hip hop, as it would be impossible to skewer our chosen genre this well unless you loved it. However, with some exceptions, the jokes on here just aren't as good, and the trio resort to juvenile antics more often than not (see: “No Homo”, “Trouble On Dookie Island”). Some of Turtleneck & Chain still works, though, and these guys are talented enough to follow into an eventual third album, but maybe they should churn out a shitload of Digital Shorts instead, as those are infinitely more interesting.




  1. AnonymousMay 13, 2011

    Interesting fact, Max -- the beat for "No Homo," I'm fairly certain, uses the same sample as Swizz Beatz' retool of "Notorious Thugs" for the posthumous Notorious B.I.G. album "Duets."

    Great review as always, although I liked "Mama" a bit more than you did.

  2. I would have hoped for them to do another song with Natalie Portman.

  3. AnonymousMay 14, 2011

    I think u should review Legend of the Mask & Assasin by Sick Jacken and DJ Muggs... Not JUST because I'd really be interested in hearing your opinion, but because I think it's an insane album everyone should hear...

  4. AnonymousMay 19, 2011

    It's invisible wings not visible waist. this review sucked.