Chris Palko is one of those guys whose life is filled with such harrowing experiences that independent film producers and film school dropouts would kill to tell his story. Hell, someone is actually doing that as we speak: actor-slash-jackass Shia LeBeouf is supposed to be producing and starring in a biopic based on the artist's life, last time I checked. The only problem is that Palko, formerly known as Alex and Cage Kennylz but now simply goes by Cage, has already told his side of the tale, multiple times, throughout his musical career, and there may not be much more to it to embellish.
I won't get into too much detail about Cage's upbringing, except to say that having a father who abuses drugs in your own fucking face, an abusive stepfather that beats the shit out of you every chance he gets, and a mother who convinces a judge that you're crazy and has you committed, all leads to one very fucked childhood. It also lends itself as fuel for your rhymes, as Cage has parlayed his life experience into a career as one of the darkest rappers in the underground in recent memory.
It's not all murder fantasies and drug abuse, though: Palko's also into hip hop beef and, of course, pornography. (Who isn't, really?) Cage's underground career began in the mid-1990s, with the release of several singles, each one slightly more successful than the last. He's been around for such a long time that he was able to (possibly correctly) accuse Eminem of biting his sadistic style when Marshall's The Slim Shady EP dropped in 1997. (If you'll recall, Eminem's debut album was the Nas-influenced Infinite, so The Slim Shady EP signified a shift into shock value territory, which Palko claimed to be his own domain.) A feud predictably followed, with both sides launching missives toward each other as only white rappers can: I wasn't able to find any information about the end of this beef, so it's possible that it's still continuing to this day, only nobody gives a fuck about it, because the two artists are so far away from that early point in their respective careers that it's beyond worthless to fight anymore.
Although Movies For The Blind is technically Cage's debut full-length album, he actually hit store shelves a year prior: in 2001, his Smut Peddlers project Porn Again, a joint effort with The High & Mighty's Mr. Eon and DJ Mighty Mi, was met with critical acclaim and the poor record sales that all underground rappers enjoy. Mighty Mi not only handled the bulk of the production on Movies For The Blind (whose badass album cover art apes the poster for John Carpenter's They Live), he also released it on his label, Eastern Conference Records, which at least got the guy into national chain stores like Best Buy and Blockbuster Music (remember them?)
1. MORNING DIPS
It's basically a rap album intro, folks. You were expecting greatness?
2. ESCAPE TO '88
Over a very High & Mighty-ish Mighty Mi instrumental, Cage runs down what the listener should expect from Movies For The Blind: crazy askew bars delivered from the point of view from a psychopath whose ailments were culled from years of abuse, both physical and drug-related. The first verse even throws a not-so-subliminal barb at Marshall Mathers: "Being blackballed by a white MC... / I guess that faggot found the right M.D." Okay, it's not exactly venomous or anything, but it's still there. Mighty Mi's beat isn't exactly what you would expect someone like Chris Palko to rhyme over, which is probably why this track works so much better than it ought to.
3. (DOWN) THE LEFT HAND PATH
Strangely, producer Rush's beat on this song reminds me of something Dr. Dre might have crafted for Detox in about three minutes, but then scrapped while deciding to run down to the gym instead. Cage's bars ramble all over the place, as most underground artists are prone to do, except his lyrics run and hide in dark corners are dare the listener to find them. This wasn't a bad track, but it was kind of boring.
4. TEEN AGE DEATH
I wasn't feeling this song at all. Each bar seems to be unrelated to the last, and none of it connects with the production, handled by the late Camu Tao. There isn't much more to say.
5. TOO MUCH
The Ghetto Professionals give our host an instrumental that's pretty decent, but Cage's verses will only appeal to hip hop heads who wish that Eminem was still rapping in his Slim Shady persona. he flows with the beat well, but when you're not saying much of anything, that doesn't really fucking matter, does it? I'm starting to remember why I don't listen to Movies For The Blind anymore.
6. IN STONEY LODGE
This was the first track I gravitated to when I first unwrapped Movies For The Blind, and that was entirely because it was produced by J-Zone. I'm pretty sure that this beat would have fueled a lighthearted lark had it been sold to any other artist, but in Chris Palko's hands, it sounds like the most insane thing Zone had ever conjured up. Cage delivers a three-verse narrative describing his time spent in a mental institution, most of which sounds like all of the scenes from the film version of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest that were left on the cutting room floor, as there was no way that a general audience would root for Jack Nicholson when he spent most of his time trying to rape Nurse Ratched, no matter how fucking evil she was. This was an unsettling listen, but still a worthy one.
7. PROBABLY CAUSES PARANOIA
An instrumental interlude from DJ Mighty Mi...
8. THE SOUNDTRACK...
...which he then transitions into this hard-as-fuck instrumental, which Chris uses to fantasize about murdering his abusive stepfather. This shit goes well beyond shock value and horrorcore: Palko was using this song to exorcise the demons that had been eating away at him for fucking years. The hook is a little bit wordy, and the fact that there is a hook present in the first place is a bit questionable, but Cage pulls off some truly powerful shit within three short verses. This was pretty good, and there is enough attention paid to detail to make it just a bit creepy, too.
9. AMONG THE SLEEP
Palko looks to producer RJD2 to handle duties behind the boards, and he is rewarded with a gorgeous fucking instrumental, one which he does not waste with random shit. Oh, all of his bars consist of random shit, but his flow disguises that fact, tricking the listener into believing that a cohesive narrative exists in this dojo. Cage describes either three separate dreams or one long nightmare, it's not clear which, and does so lucidly. I find it very weird that, for the most part ("The Soundtrack..." notwithstanding), Cage is determined to write songs that consist of a traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-verse structure. One would think that all of the drugs fucking around with his mindstate would have talked him into sounding more experimental.
10. AGENT ORANGE
This was the first Cage song I ever heard, thanks to the exposure given to him in The Source: our host's single "Agent Orange" b/w "Radiohead" was given a positive review, and the references to A Clockwork Orange (and, to a much lesser extent, Shogun Assassin) naturally led me down the yellow brick road. So it was nice of Palko to include this song on his full-length debut, considering that the track was already five years old at the time. Necro's gloomy instrumental fits our host like a glove, as his love of a bit of the old ultraviolence and his threats to "fuck your moms backwards" sound even more unnerving than they normally would. One think about Cage I've always liked is that he's not just obsessed with the Stanley Kubrick movie: he also talks about the Anthony Burgess novel. Adds a dimension to the old chap, I'd say.
11. A SUICIDAL FAILURE
Mighty Mi returns to production duties while Palko goes through some very extreme measures to kill himself, describing his failed techniques and his determination to follow through, all because he was dumped by his girlfriend, one who told him that he needed to choose between her and his PCP habit. Said PCP habit probably attributed to the cartoonishly dark, more graphic aspects of this tale, all of which is a metaphor for having your heart ripped out of your chest and stomped on right in front of you by the girl that you love and who you thought loved you. There's also a line referring to Masta Ace and a Jewish slaughterhouse that I believe the man took as a potshot directed toward him, even though Cage doesn't say anything disparaging about the rap legend: he's too busy dreaming up ways to fuck himself over. This wasn't bad.
12. CK WON
13. UNLIKE TOWER 1 (FEAT. MR. EON & COPYWRITE)
Palko finally opens up the studio to other collaborators, inviting his Weathermen coworker Copywrite and The High & Mighty's Mr. Eon to deliver verses over this Mighty Mi posse cut-slash-glorified cypher. The beat is shit: I fail to see what any of these motherfuckers saw in it, as all it will make you move is your bowels. The verses are mostly alright, though: nobody's saying anything beyond traditional shit-talking (the chorus reinforces that theory), but everyone sounds okay enough.
14. UNDER SATAN'S AUTHORITY
Another instrumental interlude from DJ Mighty Mi. Onward!
15. A CROWD KILLER
Palko uses up three verses to, in a roundabout way, thank his fans for supporting him while still threatening their very lives, as he is prone to doing. There's an out-of-left-field shot thrown in Slim Shady's direction yet again (clearly he was still holding a grudge in 2002), and the third verse even sounds like he's dissing himself and the Smut Peddlers (which is strange, as Mighty Mi handles the production on this track, and not very well, I may add). However, none of this adds up to anything remotely resembling essential listening.
16. THE RIGHT OUT
17. HOLDIN' A JAR 2
El-P steps in to give Movies For The Blind its most abstract instrumental of the program, one which also ranks among its best, so when Cage shuts the hell up and lets the beat ride out for more than a minute toward the end, the listener is thanking his or her lucky stars. Palko steps his lyrical game up as well, as if to keep up with El-Producto's running game, delivering precise (and mentally distorted) bars like a skilled underground rapper with more than five years under his belt should. This wasn't bad.
18. PUSSY, MONEY, & WAR (FEAT. COPYWRITE)
Movies For The Blind ends as it began, with Mighty Mi lending an instrumental, except this one is less than intimidating. Palko's final three verses of the project feature one last potshot thrown Eminem's way and a smug admission that two of his songs were chosen by filmmaker Larry Clark for the soundtrack to his film Bully, but the vast majority of it is just trash talk, which is how it should be. Guest star Copywrite only provides the hook, which at least prevents our host from succumbing to another wordy chorus of his own. This was pretty much the only real way this album could have ended. Unless you turned it off after "Holdin' A Jar 2", of course.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Cage's Movies For The Blind has its moments, most of which are dripping in blood, but for the most part, the production weighs down our host, and Palko's lyrics rarely deviate from the thoughts from his demented psyche, drug-fueled ramblings, and occasional moments of clarity that are few and far between. This isn't really surprising: Palko himself has dismissed Movies For The Blind as an overlong advertisement for drug use that only has a few songs on it that he actually still likes today. When the artist himself doesn't hold his own fucking album in high regard, there's little hope that it will be consistently entertaining, and Movies For The Blind most certainly is not consistent. The artist formerly known as Cage Kennylz knows his way around a microphone, and if given half a chance, I have no doubt that he could hold his own against a certain Marshall Mathers in a battle of wits. (That's not a joke, by the way.) But this album hardly proves anything, except that maybe you shouldn't record while high as a cloud, unless you're Snoop Dogg and all you talk about is drinking and fucking.
BUY OR BURN? Burn this one. Better yet, look for the tracks listed below and focus mainly on those. You'll be the better for it.
BEST TRACKS: "The Soundtrack..."; "In Stoney Lodge"; "Holdin' A Jar 2"