I'm still not a fan of that album artwork. That image will replace the whale in my nightmares.
There has been a rash of projects infiltrating our chosen genre lately that pair a single producer up with one or more artists. These collaborative albums are considered to be "game-changing" and "historic", which is fucking riduculous, because this is exactly how hip hop used to sound back in the day: a rapper typically had the assistance of only one producer to help him or her get their point across. Oh well, I suppose everything comes full circle.
Duck Down Records, home of the Boot Camp Clik, has been fortunate enough to unleash two entries into this category this year, both in the month of June. Random Axe, the joint effort between Black Milk, Sean Price, and Guilty Simpson, dropped two weeks ago to stellar reviews and, predictably, really shitty sales, although one would hope that a certain Amazon link in the sidebar may help change that (hint, hint). This week, they one-upped themselves by unleashing Monumental, a monster collaboration between original Boot Camp Clik members Smif-N-Wessun and a man that most of you two would consider to be one of the finest producers this game has ever generated, Pete Rock.
Personally, I wasn't sure how a project from these two parties was supposed to even sound, as Pete Rock is more well-known for soulful samples and those fucking horns than he is for producing songs for the street audience. Smif-N-Wessun also aren't typically brought up in conversation when heads discuss who Pete Rock should actually work with. So Monumental was kind of surprising, although out-of-left-field arranged marriages such as this one aren't always a bad thing.
What worried me was the tracklisting. I already knew that Pete Rock would be handling all of the instrumental work on here: if he didn't, I'm sure my readers would revolt. But there seemed to be far too many guests on Monumental than there should have been, considering that the pairing of Peter with the Cocoa Brovaz was supposed to be the main draw. I could get behind the promised cameos from Raekwon, Buckshot, and Sean Price; hell, I could even deal with Da Rockness Monsta, Styles P, and, um, Hurricane G (hey, Smif-N-Wessun have a proven history with her, so I can let that slide). But Black Rob? I get that he recently defected from Bad Boy Records to sign with Duck Down, but was this really the right time to bring him out? And who the fuck thought it would be a good idea to feature motherfucking Memphis Bleek on a song that Pete fucking Rock produced? Monumental seems to have gone from being an exciting (if questionable) pairing to a sadomasochistic tirade. I'm intrigued, but not very thrilled, to be listening to this right now.
Hey, I have to be honest.
Unfortunately, the release of Monumental will always be marred for me by the stories released yesterday about the multiple incidents of police brutality that happened outside of the album's listening party held in New York City. After the party was ordered to be shut down, one of Pete Rock's good friends was brutally beaten, and from what I understand, Louieville Sluggah (of the Originoo Gunn Clappaz) even had to go to the hospital due to injuries sustained in the one-sided melee that followed. It sickens me to see police officers, drunk on power, exact their authority over a situation where there is no adversity to be found. I even viewed a video someone took of the event, which clearly shows at least one man being attacked by a cop with a baton, who isn't fighting back. I truly hope that this shit spurs a direct change in how people treat other people: there was truly no need for this shit to ever happen.
(Side note: I listened to the entirety of Monumental and wrote the rest of the review before reading about Tuesday night's incident. I just felt that it deserved to be mentioned.)
Yeah, that was a rap album intro, all right.
2. MONUMENTAL (FEAT. TYLER WOODS)
Hardly sounds as grand as its title would imply, but Pete's treat sneaks up on you in a subtle fashion, and soon enough, you'll notice your line of sight fluctuating as your head nods up and down. Both Tek and Steele, who sound much more reserved than I'm familiar with (possibly because neither man wanted to step on the toes of the certified legendary producer behind the boards), but they also sound much more lyrical than I recalled, so that was awesome. Peter's own verse (his first of two on Monumental) was decent enough, too. The chorus was both unnecessary and ass, but I've complained about hip hop hooks so often on this blog that the words don't even hold meaning anymore. Still, this track was alright overall. Not a bad start.
3. PREVAIL (FEAT. RAEKWON)
Smif-N-Wessun reunite with their “Black Trump” partner Raekwon the Chef for “Prevail”, and let me just say, sir or madam, that this shit was no “Black Trump”. The first verse, which Tek and Steele share over an unnaturally shitty Pete Rock composition, is so goddamn annoying that I wanted to throw this disc into the incinerator. However, once Raekwon appears for the second verse (after a rather dramatic entrance), the song suddenly turns into a banger, as Pete Rock, who was clearly bored of his own crappy beat, switches up the instrumental into one that will remind Wu stans of the final minutes of Raekwon's “Criminology”, which was, obviously, the point. When Tek and Steele reappear for the third verse, they are so inspired by the new musical backing that they seem to override the weak-ass first minute of this already-short song. It seems that Raekwon was not a part of the same studio sessions as Smif-N/or-Wesson, but that's a small price to pay for a song that is two-thirds fantastic.
4. THAT'S HARD (FEAT. STYLES P & SEAN PRICE)
This beat doesn't sound monumental either, but this song is what the title track should have been, made up of the verses of each artist and some scratching at the end, bullshit R&B chorus be damned. Smif-N-Wessun are joined by their Boot Camp Clik coworker Sean Price and, for some reason, Styles P of The Lox, and everyone turns in a good performance over the simple-yet-earwormy Pete Rock instrumental. Styles falters a bit, mainly because he's outside of his comfort zone, but he still sounds alright, as do our hosts, but the belle of the ball is clearly Sean Price, who destroys what is probably the most expensive beat he's ever been given in his entire career thus far. With this and Random Axe, the artist formerly known as Ruck is having one hell of a year.
5. TOP OF THE WORLD (FEAT. MEMPHIS BLEEK)
The first outright awful endeavor on Monumental, but it isn't because of the presence of motherfucking Memphis Bleek, although his verse, rather predictably, sucks cock. No, this song is garbage because Peter's beat is boring as fuck, and both Tek and Steele get lost in the shuffle with their inadequate bars and their crappy faux-optimistic chorus (on which Pete Rock also half-assedly contributes). Given the guest list, I should have seen this coming, but I'm still in shock as to just how far Monumental has fallen within the space of one nearly five-minute-long track. Wow, this was bad.
6. FEEL ME (FEAT. ROCK & BUN B)
After Rock (from Heltah Skeltah) provided a stellar verse on Random Axe's “Another One”, I was looking forward to his work on Monumental, and I walked away from this song feeling despondent. Pete Rock (no relation) lends a piano-driven beat that is pretty goddamn dull, and Da Rockness Monsta provides a horrible chorus that would be laughable if it weren't so fucking terrible. Luckily, he fares a little bit better with his verse, as fo Tek and Steele, who sound alright, if distracted. The weirdest part about this song is definitely the Bun B cameo: if you had told me a year ago that Bun B would someday work with Pete Rock on a song recorded with Smif-N-Wessun, I would have punched you in your lying whore mouth. But he's on here, and he sounds decent enough. Unfortunately, the entire track is too blah to keep my interest.
7. ROSES (FEAT. FREEWAY)
And the rash of random cameo selections pulled from a magician's top hat continues with Freeway, who, oddly, is restricted to hook duty only on this song, on which Tek and Steele suddenly get serious and talk about how important it is to tell someone how you feel about them before it's too late. Beardy sounds okay, but you keep half-hoping he'll spit a verse, and your wish is never granted. Pete's beat is mostly low-key percussion with some chanting thrown in for good measure: that is to say, it's pretty simple. The song itself wasn't bad, but I think we may be straying a bit too far from what people were actually expecting from the pairing of Pete Rock and Smif-N-Wessun.
Well, this was a misguided attempt at a high concept: Tek and Steele both portray the devil on this track, happily corrupting a young soul who never seems to question why his version of Lucifer has two distinct voices commanding him to do his/their bidding. Peter's instrumental was okay enough, but it doesn't carry the heat required for a track about Hell. I give our other two hosts credit for switching things up with their subject matter, but there has to have been a better way to rap about this topic than how “Fire” turned out. Also, the chorus blows, but it's almost as though you don't even have to read that statement to know that, right?
9. THIS ONE (FEAT. TOP DOG, JAHDAN BLAKKAMOORE, & NOBLE SOCIETY)
Meh. That's right, I'm bringing it back out.
10. DO IT (FEAT. HURRICANE G)
The Cocoa Brovaz reunite with their perpetually annoying “Spanish Harlem” costar Hurricane G, with generally pleasing results. Pete Rock flips the Babe Ruth “The Mexican” sample differently than what the Theodore Unit used for their “'88 Freestyle”, while Tek channels Big Daddy Kane during his opening bars to this genial throwback. Smif-N-Wessun sound much better than their invited guest (obviously), but Gloria manages to not embarrass herself, causing the whole of Monumental to swing back in the right direction. This was just fun to listen to. Couldn't help but feel bad for Tony Touch, though.
11. NIGHT TIME (FEAT. BUCKSHOT)
The beat on here isn't anywhere near monumental, either, but this massive collaboration should have also been the title track. (Maybe someone should combine this with “That's Hard” for a sixth-grade level pastiche of a mash-up.) After a quick snippet of a Richard Pryor comedy bit (which was also used on the Twinz song “Sorry I Kept You”), Tek and Steele kick some chill rhymes over a relaxing instrumental, with both Pete Rock and Smif-N-Wessun's Duck Down Records label boss Buckshot (of Black Moon) bringing up the rear with some entertaining verses. The energy level just isn't there, but “Night Time” was still an enjoyable diversion that will make you wish that it was about four minutes longer and that it featured the rest of the Boot Camp Clik.
12. (I'M A) STAND UP GUY (FEAT. BLACK ROB)
Although I liked his debut, Life Story, it could be argued that guest star Black Rob is of even less consequence to the current state of hip hop than even Memphis Bleek. He makes his Duck Down Records debut (as he was recently signed by the collective for some ungodly reason) on here, contributing a horribly loquacious chorus and a decent-enough middle verse over some uncharacteristically street Pete Rock production, which sounds as though it was ghostwritten by Nashiem Myrick (of Puff Daddy's Hitmen fame). Tek and Steele do what they can, but the ingredients fail to blend together properly, and the song ends up tasting bland as a result.
13. GO OFF
I couldn't get into this shit, no matter how short it ended up being. Pete Rock's instrumental never adjusts itself, and both Tek and Steele sound ill-suited for it, making the entire track sound bad as a result. It is what it is.
14. TIME TO SAY
Monumental ends with Smif-N-Wessun's attempt at a semi-inspirational song, one where both Tek and Steele describe their struggles and how they won't let anyone get them down. Somehow, their plan of attack involves having Tek repeat the long-ass chorus multiple times throughout. This song was too numbing to have any sort of real impact on anybody, so while the effort is appreciated, the fact of the matter is that Monumental ends extremely poorly. Even having Pete Rock end the actual project with an outro that apes the project's intro doesn't help. Oh well.
THE LAST WORD: Monumental is ultimately disappointing, although I'm not sure why I felt let down by the project: I wasn't really expecting anything from the off-the-wall pairing of producer extraordinaire Pete Rock and street rap enthusiasts Smif-N-Wessun. Neither Tek nor Steele will ever earn any accolades for their skills behind the mic, but for the most part, they sound okay (except for on the final two tracks, anyway). I suppose my biggest problem with Monumental is with Pete Rock's work behind the boards, which is neither as bombastic as his past music has been, nor is it modified enough to suit his collaborators: in short, he sounds uninspired for much of the runtime. This leads to a fourteen-track album on which only a handful of songs are even worth actually listening to, and in this economy, that shit doesn't fly when an artist is hoping for his or her fans to pay full retail for their output. I'm loving this surge of producer/rapper collaborative projects, but it's sad that Monumental, the one with the highest pedigree (due to Pete Rock's involvement, obviously), is the one that sounds the most unnatural.