A few of you have already noted this in your comments for the Ski Beatz 24 Hour Karate School projects, but for the rest of us: the quality of the music (and the artwork, although the album cover for the third installment, 24 Hour Karate School Presents Twilight, wasn't that bad) has decreased with each successive installment (24 Hour Karate School Japan doesn't count, since it included the same beats from the first installment of this series, just adopted by entirely different artists). It's a known fact that Ski abandoned the hip hop tradition of overt sampling after the first installment, electing to utilize a live band (The Senseis) as a cheaper alternative, but that isn't why I feel the music has suffered; The Roots have used a live band nearly their entire career, and they sound just fine. Although I do feel that the man's work ethic may have resulted in some rushed product that could have used a little more nurturing before it was unleashed upon the public, I believe that the fault of the glorified art project's failure lies with the artists who pass through the building.
Yasiin Bey Mos Def pulled out of the original 24 Hour Karate School seemingly hours before the album hit store shelves (after recording several guest verses, he refused to allow them to appear on the project itself), Ski Beatz has been very selective about the rappers he will allow into his dojo. Unfortunately, he has pretty much excluded every single major name in hip hop today in favor of honoring the underground, which is fantastic in theory, but in execution, it's fairly obvious that most of the guests on all three (American) volumes aren't quite ready for prime time. For every CurrenSy (who isn't perfect, but he has a charismatic quality that most hip hop stoners lack), there's a Tabi Bonney, a Da$h, and The Cool Kids (not technically a product of the Karate School, but still). 24 Hour Karate School featured well-regarded artists such as Joell Ortiz, Jay Electronica, Jean Grae, Ras Kass (yeah, I had forgotten about that one, too), a pre-fame Wiz Khalifa, and, um, Jim Jones, who isn't a good artist but has the name-brand recognition that most of the others lack; in contrast, 24 Hour Karate School Part 2's biggest star was either Kanye West's buddy GLC or former Shady/Aftermath artist Stat Quo, depending on what side of the country you're on, and neither one of those guys is selling any records. Shit, Stat Quo is still best known for the label he was dropped from and not any of his actual musical output: that's never a good sign.
The biggest star on 24 Hour Karate School Presents Twilight is Mac Miller, a young upstart with MTV backing (and merchandising provided by Hot Topic) who is popular with his growing fanbase. As Miller's debut album, Blue Slide Park, isn't known for its lyricism (the guy only seems to write about partying, chicks, and smoking weed, which apparently is enough these days), it would appear that his cameo is the result of a marketing meeting at Ski's label, where his business partner Dame Dash pretty much demanded that he put someone on the album that could move units (Mac Miller debuted at number one on the Billboard charts the week Blue Slide Park was released). As you can see, Ski is painting himself into a corner: he wants to appeal to the underground demographic, the backpackers who appreciate hard beats and intricate, battle-ready lyricism that still manages to spread a message, but his scope doesn't seem to be as wide as it used to be, and he's limiting himself to working with only close colleagues. Which is fine, but since Ski virtually disappeared from the rap game completely (only pitching in with co-production credits here or there on albums that weren't from Camp Lo) before his miraculous resurrection a few years ago, I think that it's important for him to maintain the goodwill he's generated as of late, what with his work on Curren$y's Pilot Talk series and the 24 Hour Karate School collective itself, which proved that he was capable of more than just the 1970s blaxploitation sound of Camp Lo and the backdrops to accompany the early crime parables of Jay-Z.
To that end, what follows is a list of suggested artists Ski Beatz should reach out to in an effort to make the hip hop audience pay attention to the inevitable fourth chapter in the series. The artists or groups aren't presented in any particular order, and by no means is this an exhaustive list, so I encourage you two to leave your suggestions in the comments below.
1. TALIB KWELI
Look, Ski's not getting Mos Def back in the booth. That's never going to happen. And if I had recorded several songs with Mos Def, released a few of them to blogs as a method of self-promotion, and then found out that he wanted nothing to do with my project, then I probably wouldn't want to work with him, either. But that doesn't mean that Ski shouldn't try to work with Dante's Black Star partner Talib Kweli. After coming across as awkward on his earlier efforts, Kweli has, admirably, become one of hip hop's more consistent-sounding artists, but his ear for beats has had mixed success. Working alongside Ski Beatz and his live band may help both men achieve whatever goal they respectively have in this here rap game. Also, considering the fact that Ski contributed a beat to Kweli's Gutter Rainbows, this idea isn't all that farfetched.
2. SLAUGHTERHOUSE (YES, EVEN JOE BUDDEN)
Ski has already worked with Joell Ortiz, so it should be relatively easy for him to convince the rest of the hip hop supergroup Slaughterhouse to show up at the dojo one day. While writing the introductory paragraphs today's post, I was listening to 24 Hour Karate School's "Prowler 2", mostly to erase the memory of Twilight from my mind, and I truly believe that Crooked I, Royce Da 5'9", Joell, and Joey B. could absolutely destroy a bluesy-rock-tinged banger of a beat like that. (This may be harder to accomplish now that Ski doesn't sample anymore, but it's still possible.) If Slaughterhouse isn't available, I would also accept Cormega's newly-formed M.A.R.S. supergroup, since I believe that Mega Montana, Action Bronson, and Saigon would do Ski's beats justice. However, this would require me to acknowledge Roc Marciano's existence, which is, admittedly, difficult.
3. ASHER ROTH
Okay, hear me out: after sinking about as low as he could go with his debut album, Asleep In The Bread Aisle, former Great White Hype Asher Roth has been hustling, releasing mixtapes and recording cameos alongside some of the underground's elite, so it may be the right time for him to reintroduce himself to the public over a Ski concoction of some sort. Roth's lyrics tend to stay in partying/girls/smoking weed territory, but he mixes it up with a sense of humor and an actual flow, which is much more than absolutely anyone can say about Mac fucking Miller.
Not only would an appearance from Golden Arms guarantee a purchase from all of the Wu stans that remain in the world (there are about twelve of us now, and we meet during the fourth weekend of every September for the annual conference on a Staten Island ferry), it could also help U-God's career, which doesn't really seem to be going anywhere these days. Hell, even Inspectah Deck is making moves; those moves may only include walking from the couch to the fridge and back, but he's still being more productive than U-God. Everyone else in the Wu-Tang Clan will be too busy to pop by (even Masta Killa, probably), but U-God's flow could work wonders over one of the jazzier beats in Ski's computer. Besides, how can it be called 24 Hour Karate School and not have included any Wu-Tang affiliates as of yet?
5. RICK ROSS
Ski's go-to guy Stalley is already a member of Ross's Maybach Music Group, so getting both of them together to record a collaboration should be the first thing on Ski's to-do list. Besides, Officer Ricky is something of a phenomenon in our chosen genre these days: everything he touches seems to turn into gold, or at least earns tons of spins on rap radio. If Ski wants to gain enough exposure so that the fifth installment of his series can feature nothing but unknown artists he picked up on the subway on the way into work, he needs to actually make money, and Ross is, sadly, one of the best ways to do it. As is the next guy on the list...
I don't want this to turn into some mainstream bullshit, but the point of this list was to point out some artists that Ski could look to in order to move some units and gain some free exposure for the as-yet-unannounced 24 Hour Karate School Part 4: The Dream Master. Aubrey tends to traffic in slower, more abstract instrumentals anyway, so he may actually be a pretty good fit for the concept. Hell, throw him on the song with Stalley and Rick Ross that I just made up in my mind and watch that shit blow up on Hot 97.
24 Hour Karate School featured Jean Grae, but each successive installment has lacked in the "female emcee" category. And since I really don't want to ever see Nicki Minaj appear on a Ski Beatz album, I believe that Bahamadia is the obvious choice (if Grae herself isn't available). Ski co-produced a track on her debut, Kollage, so he may still have her phone number somewhere. I also feel that she is due for a comeback, and her monotone flow would clash beautifully with Ski's musical backdrops.
8. SUAVE LOVER AND DJ CHUBBY CHUB, THE OTHER TWO GUYS FROM ORIGINAL FLAVOR
This could be a nice throwback to the old days, back when Ski Beatz was both a producer and a rapper in Original Flavor. These guys are resigned to the trivia bin these days, as their second album Beyond Flavor is better known for featuring some of the earliest appearances from Jay-Z and Sauce Money. There are many producers in our chosen genre who feel the need to pick up the mic from time to time, such as Black Milk, The Alchemist, and Hi-Tek, so it wouldn't be unheard of if Ski paid homage to his own past by spitting a single verse. This collaboration would receive a ton of virtual ink on hip hop blogs, guaranteed. I don't expect this one to actually happen, but it's a nice idea.
9. TASH (OF THA ALKAHOLIKS)
This is more of a dream request than anything else, but Tash is one of my favorite underappreciated rappers, and his elastic flow could fit over one of Ski's more high-energy beats like a glove. Hell, throw J-Ro and E-Swift on there too, if you want: I'd love to hear a reunion from Tha Liks. Although he would probably have to record J-Ro's verse over Skype, since the dude lives in Sweden and all. I also noticed that there was a lack of West Coast artists on this list, hence this entry, but even though I just acknowledged that fact, feel free to list some Cali rappers who would fit this specific bill in the comments below.
No, seriously. Just call him, Ski. You never know. He has a daughter now, you know: he may actually be home.