I realize this seems like another one of my out-of-left-field posts, but I had been sitting on the debut album from Akinyele Adams, Vagina Diner, since a few months after the Reader Review ran three fucking years ago (man, have I really been at this for that long?), and I noticed that it was still receiving a significant number of hits as late as this week, so I figured that now was as good a time as any to give it a spin. Granted, most of those hits probably came from people Googling the project, coming across my blog, and then discovering that there are no download links on here (suckers!), but I'm hoping that at least one of those Googlers will return for my own thoughts on the Large Professor-produced project, as a sufficient-enough amount of time has passed between Jaded Scenester NYC's Reader Review and today.
Akinyele is a rapper who will forever be best known for the company he used to keep. When the world ends later this year and people take stock of our chosen genre, Ak will not be remembered for his gruff delivery or his tendency to force the last word in any of his given bars out of his mouth in a different register than everything previously: no, everyone will remember him as the guy who made his debut appearance with a cameo on Main Source's classic posse cut "Live At The Barbecue". And even then, people would have to be a bit more specific, because another well-known rapper also made his debut on the same track: of course I'm talking about Nas. Nasir Jones, Akinyele Adams, Large Professor, Sir Scratch, and K-Cut all joined forces at that fateful backyard gathering in 1991 to create a song that hip hop heads still treasure today, and everyone involved used the momentum of that particular track to embark on a new career. Everyone except Joe Fatal, of course, who also appeared on the song but is mostly remembered as the guy who fucked up my coffee order this morning.
Some of you two may be wondering why the "My Gut Reaction" tag is attached to today's post. The obvious answer is because I hadn't ever sat down and actually listened to Akinyele's debut solo album Vagina Diner until today. Everything I know about Ak was collected from three distinct sources: (1) "Live At The Barbecue"; (2) his song titles (for tracks not on Vagina Diner, sadly) popping up in The Source, XXL, Vibe Magazine, and in hip hop pop culture (on "N---a What, N---a Who (Originator '99)", Jay-Z specifically mentions the song "Fuck Me For Free" and even says Ak's name, while on the remix to Missy Elliott's "One Minute Man", Hova sings his own version of the hook to Ak's "Put It In Your Mouth"); and (3) the song "Loud Hangover", a collaboration with Sadat X (featured on Funkmaster Flex's 60 Minutes Of Funk Volume 1) that still fucking knocks today.
But for some reason I felt that was all I needed to know about Akinyele Adams, at least until I realized that Vagina Diner was entirely produced by the Large Professor (with scratches by DJ Rob Swift). So with iPod in hand, I began my journey.
One of the drawbacks to waiting this long to listen to Vagina Diner is that it's nearly impossible to hear the word “Worldwide” (which is not just the title of the song, it's also the only word used during the hook) without thinking of the movie Step Brothers. Here, Akinyele Adams extols the virtues of both boats and hos, laying down three verses (and resorting to his gimmick of ending his bars in a guttural growl – fuck, that's going to be annoying if he does that throughout the project) over some low-key (and by that I mean indistinct) Extra P production work, and he even gets a few good lyrical barbs in, before his third verse is interrupted by a disembodied vocal repeating the title over and over again. Not the best way to start things off, in my opinion.
2. OUTTA STATE
Although “Outta State” came out first, you can't help but be reminded of A Tribe Called Quest's mini-masterpiece “Midnight” (off of Midnight Marauders, which Large Professor famously guest-starred on), thanks to the Albino Gorilla “Psychedelic Shack” sample used on both tracks. Ak sounds interesting enough, as though he has a large chunk of food lodged in his esophagus and he's trying to rap around it, but he isn't able to carry the entire song by himself: I lost interest halfway through the second act, partly because of the never-changing LP loop. I can just picture both of my readers tuning out at this point of the review. Stick with me: hopefully this will be worth the trouble.
3. AK HA HA! AK HOO HOO?
This song, on the other hand, is a lot more fun, as our host is limited to eight bars per verse, forcing him into a creative space that provides the playfulness that Vagina Diner has lacked thus far. (The goofy-ass song title also helps.) Ak's line, “Can't hold your own / fuck around and catch a hernia” is pretty funny, although the power of the track is undermined by the man's general misunderstanding of how umbrellas are supposed to work. Still, this was enjoyable enough, and Rob Swift's scratches toward the end were a nice touch.
4. DEAR DIARY
The title, which informs the chorus, is pretty fucking nonsensical, as the rest of this track has absolutely nothing to do with collecting your thoughts in your dream journal. Akinyele simply goes off for two verses filled with entertaining lines and general braggadocio, while Rob Swift scratches the hell out of Extra P's instrumental. I wish the music was a bit more engaging, but it still wasn't bad for what it was. Perhaps I was being too harsh on Vagina Diner before, as Ak does all of the heavy lifting on here successfully.
5. BAGS PACKED
The overbearing sample of Sly & The Family Stone's “Sing A Simple Song” gets in the way a bit during the intro and the hook, but otherwise, Ak's outright dismissal of a lazy live-in lover is banging. Large Professor brings some hard drums to the table, while our host finds new and inventive ways to essentially say “Get the fuck out of my house” throughout. The short instrumental interlude at the very end is a good contrast to the high-energy displayed on “Bags Packed”. This song actually rocked. Huh.
6. THE BOMB
To my knowledge, “The Bomb” was the first and only single released from Vagina Diner, and based on what I've heard thus far, it's an excellent choice, as it sounds the most like what Interscope would want to use to introduce Akinyele to the masses. LP's beat is jazzy boom-bap, and Ak shines through his three verses with lines such as, “Smoking n----s like cigarettes because their style is a fuckin' drag”. “The Bomb” runs for nearly five minutes, but the time truly flies by, thanks to Ak's random pop culture references (Denis Leary doesn't get name-dropped enough in rap songs) and catchy delivery, by which I mean that he doesn't overuse his guttural growl. Nice!
This instrumental interlude is just Large Professor fucking around, as well he should.
Another track where the title has nothing to do with the lyrics, but this time around, the title doesn't even have anything to do with the chorus. How hard would it have been for the hook to have said “Checkmate” instead of “Check it out”? Hell, even Cypress Hill pulled that shit off (with their own “Checkmate” off of IV), and they're perpetually stoned! (Funnily enough, Ak works a Cypress Hill reference into his verses here.) Oh well, I still liked this track, as our host's nonsensical line, “I'll cut you like cheese that's been cheddared”, made me laugh out loud. Why the hell haven't I ever listened to Vagina Diner before?
9. I LUH HER
Egregious misspelling aside, don't go into “I Luh Her” expecting a love rap: Akinyele has knocked up his lady friend and, instead of wanting to help raise the kid or even spending the rest of his life with his girl by jumping the broom, he debates whether he should help pay for an abortion or just pay someone to kick her in the stomach, thereby forcing a miscarriage. You see, Ak doesn't want to waste his youth on raising a kid, regardless of the fact that he's half the reason why she's pregnant in the first fucking place. Any allegiance the audience has made to our host during the previous four tracks is nullified by a one-verse wonder that is seemingly performed solely for shock value's sake. At least the instrumental is also terrible, so I don't feel bad when I say that the song sucks balls overall.
10. YOU KNOW MY STYLE
This is just an unnecessary interlude. Skip.
Hilariously, our host uses up an entire track to justify why he doesn't play sports and why he doesn't participate in physical activity of any kind. Why exert yourself when you have the cash to make things go your way instead? Most rappers wouldn't dare release a trifle such as this, so even though the song itself isn't so hot, Akinyele deserves credit for tackling such random subject matter: hopefully his lack of action doesn't bite him in the ass later on in life.
12. NO EXIT
Akinyele dives into a more serious song, exploring a failing relationship, Blue Valentine-style, and, perhaps not coincidentally, turns in the worst track on Vagina Diner, and not just because anybody who actually purchases an album entitled Vagina Diner isn't looking for a side of sadness with their entrée. Extra P's beat is simply weak, and Ak doesn't even sound sold on the song's concept: you keep half-expecting him to drop a few punchlines and wink at the audience. Oh well, you can't have everything.
13. 30 DAYS
Curiously, Vagina Diner sticks with the serious theme for its finale, on which Akinyele gets all The 25th Hour on the listener and describes his mindset just before he's about to start a bid in prison. “30 Days” fares much better than “No Exit” in that Ak sounds invested in the material, and Extra P's beat (along with Rob Swift's scratching) only complements the man's performance. While this track isn't on the same level as the best work on Vagina Diner, it's as good a way to end an album as any.
THE LAST WORD: Okay, so Vagina Diner wasn't quite the consistently enjoyable freakfest I had been anticipating. Akinyele's flow is an acquired taste: at times, he sounds like a slightly more coherent cousin of Craig Mack. But he at least is enthusiastic about the idea of rhyming (unlike, say, Craig Mack), and his energy carries most of the meh songs on this project. The great tracks are perfect marriages of Ak's vocals and Large Professor's instrumentals, with each artist anticipating the other's next move, the friendly tension resulting in some underrated hip hop gems. True, if you can't get past Akinyele's flow, Vagina Diner won't ever be your cup of tea. Fans of early-1990s hip hop (or Extra P completists) should give this album a try, though, as there is enough entertainment value on here for it not to be a waste of your time (if you can score a copy, anyway; I understand Vagina Diner is out of print, hence the higher price in the Amazon link below). The middle section of the album is quite brilliant, as well. Come for the beats (and Rob Swift's turntable techniques, which aren't truly on display here but which garner him a few name drops anyway), stay for the performance of Akinyele Adams, and leave with both a mild headache and a better appreciation of another facet of hip hop that New York has to offer.