September 10, 2011

My Gut Reaction: Ski Beatz - 24 Hour Karate School Pt. 2 (August 9, 2011)

In 2010, producer Ski Beatz presented his grand attempt at a comeback in our chosen genre, the compilation 24 Hour Karate School, which was named after his loose collective of artists who popped by his Damon Dash-financed studios to work with him at odd intervals.  This project was notable for being mostly interesting while selling almost zero copies, because nobody actually buys hip hop albums anymore.  Blogger favorites such as Jean Grae, Jay Electronica, Ras Kass, Stalley, Curren$y, and The Cool Kids all took their turns behind the mic (as did Yasiin Mos Def, who was later erased from the masters because Dame was pissed at his defecting to the enemy's G.O.O.D. Music label Dante refused to sign over the rights), all while Ski worked his magic behind the boards, turning in some of the most inspired instrumentals of his entire career (which spans quite a bit of time; this is a guy who worked on Jay-Z's debut Reasonable Doubt, after all).

Later in the same year, Ski capitalized on the goodwill by releasing 24 Hour Karate School Japan, which was an experiment that took all of his original beats from the first project and worked in artists of Japanese descent.  Although it could be considered rather inaccessible, I found it enjoyable enough (even though I had no fucking clue what was being said about one hundred and seventy-six percent of the time), and I believe it proves that Ski's beats are universal.  It was only released overseas, but you weren't really expecting to see it on the shelves of Best Buy, were you?

Unsurprisingly, Ski immediately took to the studio and crafted a sequel to his breakthrough project.  24 Hour Karate School Pt. 2 was released in August of this year, conveniently around the time I took my sabbatical, complete with some of the lamest album artwork I've ever come across (and this is coming from a guy who praised the first installment's design).  Interestingly enough, it was unceremoniously dumped into the retail market for the masses, without one hint of actual marketing (those videos on the other hip hop blogs don't count: did nobody at the label think that producing a print advertisement was a good idea?).  Maybe the folks at DD172 (Dame Dash's record label) felt that it would be a waste of time to promote an album that dropped the same goddamn week as Watch The Throne, the joint effort from Dame's former Roc-A-Fella Records business partner Jay-Z and the former in-house producer Kanye West.

Probably doesn't help that the tracklisting of 24 Hour Karate School Pt. 2 is filled with a bunch of names nobody really cares about, either.

24 Hour Karate School Pt. 2 kicks off not with a bang, but with a half-assed whimper, as a vaguely guitar-tainted Ski beat (that sounds incomplete, if I'm being honest, and why wouldn't I be?) is entirely wasted on newbie Locksmith, who adopts an annoying-as-fuck halting flow for his shitty chorus and his first few bars before settling into what I assume is his normal, incredibly mediocre delivery style to spit braggadocio that doesn't ever feel earned and that absolutely nobody will ever believe. Maybe Locksmith has some actual talent, but it won't be found on something that is so fucking terrible that it should have been replaced with a rap album intro. This isn't a good sign.

Ski Beatz skews toward the experimental side of the dial with his work on “Moon Walking”: sadly, “experimental” was being used in the previous sentence as a euphemism for “crappy”. STS, a Philly-based artist who has worked alongside The Roots, sounds bland as fuck, but any rapper would have had a significant amount of trouble working with this particular instrumental: nobody really wants to hear someone rhyme to a beat created by a malfunctioning sound board who is hell bent on taking over the world. Sugar Tongue Slim does the best he can with what he was given, but there isn't jack shit on here that makes me believe that his beat selection was his only misstep. Sigh.

The first three beats on 24 Hour Karate School Pt. 2 sound as though they were crafted by three separate parties, which I guess should be seen as a testament to Ski's continuing evolution as a producer. This horn-heavy concoction sounds pretty decent, actually: I only wish it were given to a different set of artists. I didn't hate the contributions from Count and Moonie of the L.E.P. Bogus Boys entirely: in fact, whoever goes second on here (because I don't know shit about them) has a voice that reminded me of a cross between Prodigy (of Mobb Deep) and Big Sha. But neither man stands out in the crowded field of subpar new artists, and Terri Walker's singing voice will cause your ears to start bleeding heavily. What the fuck happened on here, Ski?

It's my own fault, but whenever I hear the phrase “rat king”, I immediately think of Dean Winters's Dennis Duffy on 30 Rock. Hip hop also-ran Cassidy, who I have managed to pay almost zero attention to throughout his entire career thus far, takes a stab at relevancy with a long single verse bookended with a shitty hook over a simple Ski beat, and he doesn't sound all that awful, although his performance quickly spirals into a homophobic rant directed at an anonymous competitor. Cassidy never comes right out and says the f-word, though, so I suppose his restraint is commendable. Still, it's really fucking sad when that is the first thing I find on 24 Hour Karate School Pt. 2 that is even remotely “commendable”. Groan.

Using blogger love as the only qualifier, Freddie Gibbs is the biggest star on 24 Hour Karate School Pt. 2, which is a strange-as-fuck sentence for me to write. At least Fredward steps up to the plate, though, delivering a performance straight off the Str8 Killa cutting room floor over a Ski Beatz instrumental that would have slid seamlessly onto that particular EP, had Gibbs been using name-brand producers at that point. The hook is wordy and unnecessary, but Freddie's specific brand of self-aware thug posturing helps make “Illegal” the first entertaining entry on this entire project thus far.

Stat Quo is a Southern rap artist who was once signed to Eminem's Shady Records, and, like everyone else on that vanity label not named Curtis Jackson, he was eventually dropped from the roster having only released a handful of tracks and no actual album. (Hey, someone had to make room for Yelawolf (who I can't imagine succeeding with Marshall's backing, but whatever) and Slaughterhouse.) Listening to his middling verse on “Amnesia”, it becomes very apparent why Slim Shady cut his losses: the boy isn't all that great. Ski's beat, which also isn't that great, almost seems to go out of its own way to prove that Stat Quo is less than average. Vocalist Nicole Wray, a holdover from the first installment, continues her career's downward trajectory by singing a shitty chorus. Meh.

The magnificently bee-bearded Stalley, one of the standouts from the original 24 Hour Karate School (who subsequently signed with Rick Ross and his Maybach Music Group: raise your hand if you saw that shit coming, so that I know who to point out as being a fucking liar), returns to drop a quick one-verse wonder (and I mean quick: the majority of the one-minute-and-forty-seven-second run time is taken up by the beat) and then jumps off of this sinking ship, landing in a nearby inflatable raft that is powered by his own sense of self-worth. Even though it sounds like Ski lifted this directly from a voicemail message, “Larry Bird” easily makes for one of the best performances on the entire project. The beat isn't all that, but one-verse wonders are tailor-made for producers to use up their unfinished thoughts, so I'll let it slide. Not bad.

This was alright enough. Dash (which is written a different way on the back cover for some reason), from The Heir$, isn't an artist I would necessarily follow, but he sounded decent over a surprisingly sweeping Ski score, and his line about “study[ing] a n---a and becom[ing] his understudy” was kind of funny. There isn't much more I can write here: “High Score” was a perfectly serviceable rap song with a crappy hook, but that last part should come as no surprise to anybody who has listened to what passes for today's hip hop for at least three minutes.

And with what is by far the worst song on 24 Hour Karate School Pt. 2, Tabi Bonney, a holdover from the original project who I didn't have much of an opinion on, moves straight to the top of my shit list. This song is fucking atrocious, and not just because Ski's contribution sounds like something he stole from the Cali Swag District. Bonney has undergone a de-evolution with his rhyming ability, eliminating any trace of substance from his bars in favor of an overplayed style made up of monosyllabic words, crappy sound effects on the “hook”, and shitty Drake-esque metaphors (including one that is alarmingly similar to what Eminem used on Bad Meets Evil's “I'm On Everything”). Methinks Tabi Bonney needs to stop frontin' and find himself a real fucking job, as he won't last that much longer in our chosen genre. If you actually liked this shit, then you just brought shame upon your family.

The Cool Kids have sporadically popped up on HHID whenever they make guest appearances, but neither member has made enough of an impression for me to run out and find one of their actual albums to write about. Mikey Rocks, one half of the duo (along with Chuck Inglish), attempts to personally rectify that oversight by unleashing an interesting-enough verse over some mismatched Ski production. Unfortunately, he flounders: he sounds okay, but he still comes across as just generic enough for me to not give a damn, and Ski fails him the same way he has failed most of his invited gusts on 24 Hour Karate School Pt. 2: these instrumentals sound like the product of a lack of focus.

Ski's guitar-heavy instrumental sounds like a relic from the early part of the millennium, back when rappers were running out of 1980s samples to use but before producers resorted to mashing together random noises and calling it “music” (*cough* “Frontin'” *cough*). Rapper Najee drowns in the river fairly quickly: I would love to say that he fought the tides admirably, but he was the wrong choice of artist for this beat. Ski attempts a bigger sound on “This World” and aims for a dramatic effect that is entirely undeserved, but it isn't a total loss: at least the music was interesting.

24 Hour Karate School Pt. 2 ends with the unheralded return of Stat Quo, who I suppose was positioned to be the star of this project by default, and his sexist remarks that, for some reason, sound unreasonably harsh and misogynistic, even for a rap song: Stat Quo sounds like he literally hates women. And he isn't a big enough talent in hip hop to pretend that he's just “acting”, either (and let's be honest, he never will be). At least this time around he brought Kanye West's running buddy GLC (a surprise cameo, considering the ongoing issues Dame Dash has with The Throne) with him: he spits pretty much the exact same type of shit, but has a natural charisma that helps him play it off as him just fucking around on the mic. Ski's beat was ineffective, as seems to be standard here. What the fuck did I just waste my time with?

THE LAST WORD: I enjoyed Ski Beatz's original 24 Hour Karate School, and 24 Hour Karate School Japan was pretty entertaining as well, but 24 Hour Karate School Pt. 2 is some straight-up bullshit. This project has no redeeming qualities whatsoever: it's almost as though Ski foolishly believed that he actually had some laurels that he could rest on. There are only two artists on here that can walk away with something resembling a halfhearted smile: Freddie Gibbs and Stalley both prove that they can overcome any obstacle thrown their way and deliver a decent performance, regardless of what their producer is throwing at them. Everyone else on here suffers from varying degrees of suckage, the worst offender being that guy on “Frontin'” who was so fucking terrible that I don't ever want to write his name on my site ever again. If Ski was actively trying to create the worst compilation imaginable, he succeeded. The true problem on here is Ski himself, though, who makes 24 Hour Karate School Pt. 2 sound like a rush job of a sequel that absolutely nobody was really expecting anyway: his attempted showcase for unknown artists (rendered as such when the A-list refused to return his calls) now comes across as a shitty demo tape that any A&R in the industry would turn down on general principle. I don't know what happened, Ski, but your work on here will put you back on the brink of hip hop irrelevancy unless you step your shit up. Apparently his frequent collaborators Curren$y and Camp Lo saw the writing on the wall and stayed the fuck away: you should, too.




  1. As you already said, the last one was heaps better. Illegal is sick, although Freddie Gibbs was terrible live at Rock the Bells

  2. I actually thought "Moonwalking" sounded awesome, but yes, this was the most disappointing project I've heard in years. The first 24 Hour Karate School was my favorite album of last year so I definitely was not expecting such half-assed fuckery with this installment. Tabi Bonney annoys the shit out of me as well.

  3. Thank God at least two people commented. I chalk up the lack of response to this post to the lack of awareness that this project even exists, and with the way it sounds, it really has no right to in the first place.

    Thanks for reading!

  4. Yeah I really have no idea why more people didn't comment on this - I guess the real hip-hop heads who wanted that Lord Finesse review don't give a shit about poor ol' Ski. This was the first disappointing album that I've listened to that actually ruined my mood. If I hear a shitty album, it doesn't really surprise me, but Ski Beatz actually raised the bar pretty high for himself on his first installment... this just sounded so fucking rushed.

  5. All i want to know is if there will be another Japanese installment for this version of the series...i never even gave the original 24 hour karate school a listen just because the far eastern version was so amazing