In the late 1990s, New York underground stalwarts Punchline and Wordsworth (not to be confused with the artist Word Of Mouth) were freestyle cypher royalty. As solo artists and as a duo (who went by the truncated team moniker Punch-N-Words), they quickly impressed a lot of people in our chosen genre with their lyrical skill and engaging deliveries. They were known mostly for their association with the Lyricist Lounge, a series of club shows (mostly in the New York area, although it morphed into a nationwide tour once the buzz grew too large to contain) that focused their open-mic spotlights on lesser-known rappers, deejays, and graffiti artists (a fresh-faced Notorious B.I.G., pre-Ready To Die, once appeared at one of their events, and the likes of Eminem and 50 Cent (for some fucking reason) have also graced their stage), and their allegiance to Rawkus Records, an underground label that doesn't exist today thanks to the power moves of its owners. But that's a story for another day.
1998 was the apex of popularity for the duo, as they managed to score cameo appearances on two of that year's most highly anticipated projects: the Rawkus-released Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (on the posse cut “Twice Inna Lifetime”) and on A Tribe Called Quest's farewell album, The Love Movement (on the posse cut “Rock Rock Y'all”: interestingly, both songs are sequenced at the end of their respective albums, which were both released on the same day, and both songs also feature appearances by female rapper Jane Doe, so if you replaced Kweli with Q-Tip and accidentally forget to credit Mos Def with a verse on the Tribe album, you would get pretty much the exact same fucking song). They also appeared on the Rawkus compilation Lyricist Lounge Vol. 1, a two-disc collection that celebrated the concert series while also acting as a label sampler (in a similar fashion as their earlier Soundbombing mixtape had). Egged on by the critical acclaim, Punch and Words decided to try their hand at recording an album together, and in 2000, what they managed to come up with was the Punch 'N Words EP, a title that could be seen as a direct commentary as to how rappers record their songs today, although that would be giving these guys a bit too much credit.
Because herein lies the problem: this project, which was produced in full by Curt Gowdy, sold zero copies and probably caused one of group members to have to move back in with their parents. (My money is on Punchline, since he virtually disappeared from the rap game after Punch 'N Words was released, right up until Masta Ace plucked him from obscurity to become a part of his eMc supergroup alongside himself, Stricklin, and...surprise, surprise, Wordsworth.) It was kind of surprising to see just how far these two had fallen in such a short span of time: just a couple of years prior, these guys were celebrated freestyle fanatics, and now, after the failure of the Punch 'N Words EP, one-half of them was unemployable. (Wordsworth quickly moved on to a starring role on MTV's The Lyricist Lounge Show, a sketch comedy series loosely based on the original club dates, and attempted to reignite his solo career with his debut, Mirror Music, and a slot alongside Prince Paul, Chali 2na, Scratch, and Ladybug Mecca in the kid-friendly rap group Dino 5. The eMc thing came much later.) Critical acclaim was nonexistent, and the support from their peers all but disappeared entirely: the duo were left to their own devices, and they had failed miserably.
So what the fuck happened?
1. PUNCH N' WORDS (INTRO)
Rap album intros should be banned from EP releases. There's hardly enough time alloted to get to know the artists in the first place: why waste the listener's time and risk his or her wrath by throwing obstacles in their path?
2. PUNCH N' WORDS
The reason why Punchline and Wordsworth felt the need to reintroduce themselves to the audience on this EP is lost on me: the only people who would ever look for this project in the first place are those who were already familiar with their work. That said, Words is the clear winner of this song, although there is no apparent competition to be found: Wordsworth has a way with, um, words that captures the ears of the listener and forces you to drink in every syllable, while Punch merely sounds like a serviceable underground rapper. Curt Gowdy's instrumental threatens to turn “Punch N' Words” into an outright party song: thankfully, that never actually happens, but it's touch-and-go at times. The hook on here was also pretty fucking awful.
3. LAST DAYS (SO WHAT)
Punchline fares much better on this track, as he manages to hold his own with his boy Wordsworth on a track that isn't nearly as dark as the first part of the song's title would have you believe. While Punch gives the best verse (and actually rhymes for longer than his counterpart, which doesn't seem entirely fair), Words gets to give us the best line, though: “You couldn't drop an album if it slipped through your hands”. That shit is fucking hilarious. Gowdy's instrumental fits the duo a lot better than on the previous track: even though the chorus makes me weary, this actually still works as a song today. So it's too bad that everything falls the fuck apart from here on out.
Misogyny isn't really the strong suit of either of our hosts, so hearing them dive into one of the most archaic of hip hop hallmarks is more than a little bit awkward. All of their attempts at clever wordplay when describing chicks that they would fuck but would not want to build a life with are invalidated by their lazy verses, although, interestingly enough, sexist remarks appear to be in within Punch's wheelhouse, as this song contains the umpteenth reference to how he refuses to go down on his girl. The instrumental sounds as though it had been crafted for another type of track entirely, and neither host is very comfortable with the end results. This song is pretty bad, but not because of the subject matter: it just sucks as a piece of music.
Punchline and Wordsworth somehow got it in their head that they were recording Punch 'N Words for a mainstream audience. That's the only rationalization I can come up with to explain why this bounce track, with our hosts speed-rapping for nobody in particular, exists in the first place. The beat is generic Southern rap, and the rhymes use twice as many syllables to say even less than the average Punchline and Wordsworth track: the two rappers come across as doing their impersonation of a Jay-Z and Twista song, but a truly terrible one, with an R&B hook thrown in for absolutely no reason, and a title that has nothing to do with the song itself (save for a lone mention during the intro). I'll pass on this slick bullshit, thanks.
6. WATCHING ME
Punchline and Wordsworth select a moderately better instrumental to conduct their lyrical seminar: it's too bad that these two no longer sound like the same guys who stole the show on the closing tracks on both The Love Movement and Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star. It's almost as though these two have been put through the wringer of the Generic Rap Song Generator 3000 ™ (patent pending), as their rhymes don't explore new territory: both Punch and Words seem content to further hip hop stereotypes. As your grandfather would probably complain, this shit truly is just two guys talking to a beat: the problem is that the conversation they're having isn't engaging, nor is it even worth having. I officially regret my decision to review this.
What the fuck is this shit? Punch and Words officially lose their status as respected underground wordsmiths over this crappy Curt Gowdy production that features a faux DMX-type chorus that would be laughably bad if the listener wasn't already pissed off about the money they just wasted on the Punch 'N Words EP. I almost want to punch a hole in the wall behind my computer, this project was so fucking terrible: at least then I could have a place to hide the disc, so I would never have to see it again. Instead, I think I'll just wind things up now. At least this horseshit was an EP and not a full-length album, anyway: sometimes, you have to count the little victories.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Talk about wasted potential: Punchline and Wordsworth go all in with producer Curt Gowdy, and the results are the Punch 'N Words EP, a project that would be confused with fucking excrement in a blind taste test. It's no wonder these two were locked up in hip hop jail up until Masta Ace handpicked them for his eMc supergroup (I realize Wordsworth actually released a solo project, but since nobody actually bought that album either, it doesn't count): this shit fucking sucks. Not only is Gowdy the wrong producer for them to place all of their trust in, as he seems to only be concerned with copying existing trends (the bounce song “I-95” is truly appalling), both Words and (especially) Punch have dumbed down their material for a general audience that never existed for them in the first place. These aren't the Lyricist Lounge freestyle kings we knew: the Punchline and Wordsworth that released this EP might as well have signed with Bad Boy. Fuck this EP. Not literally, though: you probably don't want to get your dick trapped in a piece of plastic.
BUY OR BURN? If you actually find the Punch 'N Words EP in a record store, you should probably punch the cashier in the fucking mouth. This shit was horrible: one lone decent song in a sea of mediocrity is not enough to warrant rescuing it from the sharks. Again, fuck this EP.
BEST TRACKS: “Last Days (So What)”