(Today's Reader Review comes from Oskari Kiiskinen, who sent in his thoughts regarding Swedish award-winning rapper Adam Tensta's debut album, It's A Tensta Thing. You two may be thrown off by this, but it was about time to take a left turn on this blog. Leave your thoughts for Oskari below.)
These days with MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and the numerous other ways to peddle your wares for free, finding the best music isn't simple as back in the late 1980s – early 1990s, when you could just go and buy the latest record from any of the household names of early hip hop and get pretty much the best stuff available. The household names of today's hip hop, such as Lil' Wayne, are pretty horrible (opinions, opinions) when compared to old Nas or Rakim, so in order to find the treasures you'll have to dig a tad deeper.
Sometimes, though, the treasure is right there on the surface, just covered in dirt, so you might ignore it thinking it's just another ordinary rock. Such is the case with Adam Tensta's It's a Tensta Thing. The genre he's representing, electro hip hop, is comparable to that mud covering the diamond: it's enough to fool most treasure hunters, at least the ones that aren't wholly committed. Reading the word “electro” probably conjures up thoughts of neon lights, outer space, more neonlights, and wacky sound effects that remind you of your favorite old-school video game. In short, it sounds like something I personally wouldn't usually touch with a ten foot pole, but ignoring an entire sub-genre of music would be ignorant.
I first heard of Adam Tensta while serving in the military. A guy with whom I became friends there, a sworn self-proclaimed audiophile, sent me the link for the music video to "My Cool" which is the last thing you'd expect from someone who takes great pride in having golden jacks for his headphones (who said elitism is dead). It's also the last thing I'd expect to enjoy. But against all odds, I liked what I heard, and after looking into a few more of his tracks, I figured I should get my hands on his debut, It's A Tensta Thing. Tensta, the word that shows up in both the album title and the artist's name, is the name of a suburb in Sweden: based on how he describes growing up there (his lyrics touch on the topics of racism, discrimination, and the like), I'd imagine it to be th Compton of northern Europe. And yet, he manages to keep it all radio-friendly. I'd call that an impressive feat.
Adam also speaks out against drugs, and is, in fact, a representative for Save the Children Sweden and a youth campaign against prejudice and discrimination in Sweden called Alla Olika Alla Lika (thank you ,Wikipedia), which probably means something along the lines of "All different, all alike" (thank you, four years of Swedish lessons). So, apparently, he's a great guy, but don't think I'll go easy on him just because of that.
On with the review.
1. IT'S A TENSTA THING
Let's get one thing out of the way, so that I don't have to bring it up over and over again: Adam Tensta is really not that talented of a lyricist. There isn't anything new or mind-blowing or even clever to be found, so you shouldn't expect any fancy wordplay. Adam also tries to force the rhyme on occasion (usually by butchering the English language), and this can and will sound awkward. So about the actual song, then: this was a good way to introduce the electro sound, as this pretty much is what the entire album sounds like. Sets the tone, if you will. Tensta talks about both Tensta the suburb and Tensta the rapper. Not bad for an intro, actually. Kind of creepy, though.
2. BANGIN' ON THE SYSTEM
I didn't like this one before the review, and I don't like it now. The song is simultaneously all over the place and constantly dragging. There are some decent topic brought up during the lyrics, but the beat doesn't hold your attention, so whatever Adam's saying here goes to waste.
3. MY COOL
Here's the track made specifically for the clubs, on which Adam isn't even trying to act intellectual or deep. That being said, this is still one of the best songs on It's A Tensta Thing, as long as you can appreciate it for what it is. It's rather hard to keep all your limbs motionless while listening to this, and if you start singing the hook like an idiot, don't think for a second that you're the only one: at least, that's how I believe most people will react, as I never do anything like that (*cough*). It's good when you take yourself less seriously every once in a while.
4. WALK WITH ME
Jedi Mind Tricks has one. Young Buck has one. Joe Budden has one. Even Moby has one. And now Adam Tensta joins the glorious ranks of artists who have a song entitled "Walk With Me" in their catalog. This was chaotic and too repetitive to be interesting. There were some sound effects that reminded me of an old video game that I couldn't quite place my finger on. Oh well. Onward.
5. DOPEBOY (FEAT. EBOI)
If you have a subwoofer, prepare for some complaints from your neighbours. This song is simplistic, but it never grows old, thanks to the different elements that combine together with the background melodies. And I really like the “hidden” idea behind the lyrics. I think guest star Eboi didn't really get the joke, though.
6. SEE U WATCHIN (FEAT. NITTI GRITTI)
Four minutes of electro-disco nightmare. I have no idea what is going on with this song, so I'm going to skip ahead. I will, however, give it full points for having quite possibly the worst hook ever recorded in the history of the universe.
7. DO THE RIGHT THING
When the first words in a song are “she's so beautiful”, you know there's trouble ahead. This is a lovey-dovey ballad, and a cheesy one at that. I think I might have even heard some Christmas bells chiming in the background. Bor-ing.
8. THEY WANNA KNOW
One of the best songs on It's A Tensta Thing. It isn't too far electro, it isn't very radio-friendly, and the lyrics are even pretty decent. The gang/bang/thang rhyme scene in the beginning really sums up the depth of the lyricism of this album, but it's not that big of a deal once you realize that this is all there is. The hook is pretty damned awful, but at least it's short. The last forty seconds were completely pointless, though, as it consists of a small clip from the following track chopped & screwed (or at least edited in a similar fashion).
9. I'M SAYIN' (FEAT. ISAY)
This is just more lovey-dovey stuff, but at least it's relaxing this time around, and the hook is...well, if not great, then at least fairly good. Not an artful masterpiece by any means, but good for what it is: a simple, somewhat emotional love rap. Still cheesy, though.
10. 80'S BABY
I love this song. Adam talks about his childhood in the 1980's and early 1990's. The beat is easy on the ears, and I can easily relate to the lyrics, as I am also an “80's Baby”. Gets you feeling all nostalgic. I also loved the hook, which is simple but catchy, and the sample used is perfect. This one's a keeper.
11. S.T.O.L.D. (FEAT. EBOI)
A one-verse effort with Adam delivering a couple of words in the beginning (I think, anyway) and guest star Eboi delivering the actual verse? Unnecessary, you might say, and I might agree. I would have liked to hear Adam create a whole song with this beat, which was really good.
12. INCREDIBLE (FEAT. ISAY)
A melancholic number dedicated to Adam's mother. His touching lyrics tell an interesting story over a simple, mellow instrumental, delivered with some extra spices that make it that much more delicious. The beat being simple works very well here, as it lets you focus on the performance. The hook was also pretty good, but I think it might have worked better had a female vocalist been commissioned to sing it.
13. BEFORE U KNOW IT
Adam Tensta is the master of delivering songs that can instantly change your mood from sad to happy, from nostalgic to energetic, and so on. Good luck keeping your legs from moving to this beat. “Before U Know It” has a very catchy chorus and some pretty good lyrics, once again, and the beat is quite groovy and catchy as well Makes you wonder why Adam doesn't use the faster flow on display here all the time, as it suits him well. I never really understood who this song was supposed to be aimed at, though.
14. SAME FACE
A good way to wrap the album up. This is the most serious and conscious song on It's A Tensta Thing, with our host discussing politics and life in general over a moody beat. The hook doesn't really work, but that's my only real complaint.
FINAL THOUGHTS: It's a Tensta Thing is a really solid debut for Adam Tensta, with a handful of great songs, two handfuls of good songs and no real filler to speak of, unless you count “S.t.o.l.d.”. The producers have gone to great lengths to make sure the album gets radio play and moves units, and that shows from time to time, but it still manages to present a fairly unique and original sound to the masses, one which is easily approachable and modern. Usually that would spells trouble, but Adam manages to keep the proceedings enjoyable, even for music fans who can be rather uptight when it comes to critiquing (such as myself). All in all, It's A Tensta Thing is a great album. There are some artistic side trips that don't pan out, but the album is a mostly great debut, even if the lyrics aren't exactly what we would call clever, they aren't over-the-top cliché or 50 Cent-bad, either.
BUY OR BURN? This is worth the investment, hands down.
BEST TRACKS: “My Cool”; “They Wanna Know”; “80's Baby”; “Incredible”; “Before U Know It”
- Oskari Kiiskinen
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)