I never tire of telling my wife about how I went to high school with Kevin Slaughterhouse, the subject of today's post. He was kind of a shy kid, keeping to himself in the library instead of getting himself invited to parties. Growing up in the not-mean-at-all streets of Wilmington, Delaware, I would see the kid grabbing a slice before retreating with his notebook into the darker corners of his mind. It turns out that he had been writing lyrics down for years; after shunning the family business (baking cookies in a treehouse) and burning through several failed part-time ventures (including selling knives door-to-door, some call center work, and a brief stint as an understudy for Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity), he managed to get his foot in the door of the music industry, literally, and after the multiple surgeries required when his foot was broken in seventeen different places, he snagged a major label deal.
Wait, what? Absolutely none of that shit written above is true? And Slaughterhouse is actually made up of four separate people? And I should know better because I just wrote about these motherfuckers two days ago?
I don't see your point.
Anyway, Royce da 5'9", Crooked I, Joell Ortiz, and Joe Budden, artists who bonded over the fact that they had all been fucked over by their record labels in the past, were all granted a second chance under their Slaughterhouse guise, landing on Shady/Aftermath (a vanity label run by Royce's onetime frenemy Eminem) after an allegedly intense bidding war. Their major label debut (and second full-length project overall), Welcome To: Our House, is considered to be one of the most hotly anticipated projects in an overall sparse 2012, and expectations are set relatively high, especially after Royce's reconnection with Marshall Mathers resulted in a gold-selling EP, Hell: The Sequel, last year.
Welcome To: Our House is Slaughterhouse's attempt at mixing the critically-acclaimed lyricism they're all known for (yes, even Budden) with the needs of a pop audience, which, in theory, would make their pairing with Eminem (who serves as executive producer) a perfect one, since Marshall himself has become pretty good at appealing to a crossover audience, especially after giving up the drugs that seem to have made his rhymes remotely interesting. Of course, Royce and Budden already have experience with trying to appease mainstream audiences: Budden used to be signed to Def Jam Records, which is so far removed from independent that it almost tips right back over that side of the fence again, and Ryan Montgomery has released multiple projects in his past life as a solo artist, none of which resonated with fickle radio listeners. Crooked I was previously signed to Death Row Records, which makes his latter-day quasi-association with Aftermath head Dr. Dre even more interesting, but he was a part of the infamous label around the time of their demise, so he never got any play anyway, and Joell Ortiz was once signed to Aftermath directly, which must make things awkward whenever Dre invites Slaughterhouse over for paella.
A lot of the comments on my review for On The House, the free mixtape Slaughterhouse released as a teaser for this album, seem to indicate that Welcome To: Our House fails to live up to expectations. In a way, the fact that I'm able to hold it in my hands is an accomplishment in and of itself (since Royce is one of my favorite rappers). Then again, that doesn't say shit about the actual music.
1. THE SLAUGHTER (INTRO)
You can tell Marshall had a hand in the creation of Welcome To: Our House, since this ridiculous skit-slash-rap album intro sounds more like him than it does any of our four hosts.
2. OUR HOUSE (FEAT. EMINEM & SKYLAR GREY)
Wait, the first actual song on Welcome To: Our House starts off with Eminem? Singing? That isn't a good sign, and, as expected, the rest of this track falls apart rather quickly. Royce, Joell, and Crooked I all deliver a single verse apiece (Budden doesn't bother to make an appearance, and weirdly, I respect him more for it) over a poppy Alex Da Kid instrumental complete, as always, with an out-of-place, bland Skylar Grey chorus (can we please all agree that she will never be a “thing” and that she should stop being marketed as such?), but while they all sound okay-to-decent, the song is completely fucking awful. This is essentially Slaughterhouse's version of “I Need A Doctor”, except without a Dr. Dre to kick around. To that end, Marshall himself decides to fill in for Budden, curiously boosting his other recent Shady signee Yelawolf's profile instead of that of our hosts, but he's much more accustomed to piffle such as this shit, so he sounds about as good as one would expect. This shit sucked; I almost want to give up on this album entirely, but that would be just a tad bit unfair. Okay, I have to say at least one good thing about the song, so here goes: Royce's shout-out to Canibus intrigued me, as did his reference to problems he's had with the Wu-Tang Clan, which caught me off guard, since I always thought the Wu (or Raekwon, Method Man, and Inspectah Deck, at least) hated Joe Budden only. I probably heard that line wrong, though.
3. COFFIN (FEAT. BUSTA RHYMES)
A far more successful way to introduce the quartet to the masses, and not just because all four members of Slaughterhouse actually appear on here. Over a surprisingly catchy Hit-Boy beat, Budden, Joell, Crooked, and Ryan all do what they do best: spit some shit. And they all sound good, too, even Royce, who makes the misguided decision to end his contribution by screaming into the microphone (although he does warn the listener before he does it, so does that make it okay?). The weakest link on “Coffin” was easily guest star Busta Rhymes, who delivers a useless hook that almost, almost makes the overall track sound worse. Ignoring that, let's just say this was alright.
4. THROW THAT (FEAT. EMINEM)
Songs such as this one make me wonder (a) why I still bother doing this blog shit, and (b) just how artists decide on which tracks can make the final product. Over a plodding T-Minus beat that I'm pretty sure everyone else will love because that's typically how this works, our hosts (and guest star Marshall Mathers, who had nothing else better to do) swap their shit-talking in favor of trying to get some ass, and all of the rhymes that follow are unimaginative at best, or, at worst, fucking creepy and rather nonsensical (see: Em's promise to “throw that dick on you, girl”). Joe Budden and Joell Ortiz both clock in with a handful of bars each, so perhaps they, too, picked up on how pointless this exercise was. This shit blew.
5. HAMMER DANCE
The first leak from Welcome To: Our House, which I somehow managed to almost completely avoid before now, save for a snippet I heard on Sirius XM's Hip Hop Nation last month during a mix show from DJ Envy, feels slight, but still kind of bangs. AraabMuzik's instrumental sounded poppy at first, but it grew on me, and I now feel that it is actually a proper showcase for the lyricism of Joell, Crooked, and Budden (Ryan only handles the hook). The concept is ridiculous (see: Royce's hook), but the only thing the artists are taking seriously on here is their dedication to their craft. This wasn't bad at all, though I sure would have loved a Royce verse.
6. GET UP
Technically, this wasn't a bad song, but it was incredibly underwhelming, at least the parts including No I.D.'s beat, which substitutes loud noises for nuance. The quartet bob and weave around drum splatters and vocal samples while attempting to get their collective point across (something to the effect of “I will not lose”, which, now that I think about it, Jay-Z's line saying as such from his “Change The Game” would have worked much better on here than what Dion ran with), with fair-to-middling results. Some of you two may appreciate this for what it was. Me? I thought it ran on for too fucking long.
7. MY LIFE (FEAT. CEE-LO GREEN)
A repetitive (and weirdly Auto-Tuned at times) guest star turn from The Voice's Cee-Lo, who channels Corona's “The Rhythm Of The Night” in the profane manner a fifth-grader may feel is clever, anchors this poppy StreetRunner concoction, which is one of Welcome To: Our House's singles. Budden and Royce are forced to share a verse toward the end, and, probably as a result, neither man comes across as having much to say, but both Crooked I and Joell Ortiz manage to add another solid verse apiece to their respective bodies of work. “My Life” sounds like it was conjured up in a Shady Records boardroom as a way to get the mainstream crowd to give Slaughterhouse a second look, not unlike how “Lighters” was used to sell Em and Royce's Hell: The Sequel, even though that shit sounded nothing like the rest of that EP (or like anything else the duo have ever recorded, for that matter), as opposed it it being a natural collaboration, which hurts it a lot in my ears.
8. WE DID IT (SKIT)
9. FLIP A BIRD
As far as rap songs where the artist or artists involved claim to be not all that far removed from hustling and selling drugs and, in fact, would go back to doing just that if their rap career (or careers) floundered, “Flip A Bird” is among the more creative of them, not least of which because it manages to sample an Imogen Heap song (“Little Bird”) and make it sound like she's talking about something else entirely. I don't buy the overall concept, and Budden sounds like he would actually just go back to using and abusing drugs as opposed to flipping them, but the production, although a bit gimmicky, grows on the listener, and everyone turns in decent performances, especially Crooked I and his showstopping semi-confessional. Not bad.
10. THROW IT AWAY (FEAT. SWIZZ BEATZ)
I never thought the day would come, but here it is: “Throw It Away” severely tests my personal theory that a rap song that samples ESG's “UFO” is always going to be a banger. Yes, Swizz Beatz's involvement (on the hook only, thankfully: Mr. Porter handles the production end of things) doesn't help: hip hop really needs to lose that fucker's phone number already. However, Swizzy isn't the only problem: Ryan's opening verse adopts a Jay-Z “On To The Next One” cadence that doesn't really work for him, and Joell's contribution is straight-up garbage. Crooked I and, shockingly, Joe Budden manage to sort-of salvage the track, which, admittedly, could have been much worse, but as it stands, I didn't care much for it.
11. RESCUE ME (FEAT. SKYLAR GREY)
I don't understand why Eminem and company keep turning to Skylar Grey (and, as a result, producer Alex Da Kid, as they come as a set) as the go-to for pop-radio-ready hooks on what are ostensibly rap songs, but why Marshall decided she should make not one but two cameos on a Slaughterhouse album is a mystery I'll never be able to solve. I mean, obviously Em wants to make some money back on his investment, but Slaughterhouse is made up of four semi-underground emcees who specialize in tearing microphones apart. What makes him think that pop radio would ever give two fucks about them? By the way, this song was boring as shit, but at least the quartet prove that they can play well with others when required to by their boss.
12. FRAT HOUSE
I suppose I could commend the quartet for actually adhering to the collegiate theme for the duration of the track, but this song was so goddamn awful that I couldn't give two fucks even if they had kidnapped my dog.
There are major sequencing issues with Welcome To: Our House: how else can you explain “Goodbye”, a somber number featuring Joey, Crooked, and Joell mourning their respective losses (Budden's verse, where he laments his unborn twins, is especially heartbreaking), appearing immediately after motherfucking “Frat House”? Boi-1da's instrumental is appropriate for the overall tone, and all three rappers (Royce doesn't make any sort of appearance) work through the pain admirably. This wasn't bad, although I understand that it's being set up to be one of the next singles from the project, which I feel is a huge goddamn mistake, unless Shady/Aftermath/Interscope is intentionally trying to trick listeners into thinking that every song on Welcome To: Our House sounds like “Goodbye”, in which case, that's some truly shady shit indeed.
14. PARK IT SIDEWAYS
Yet another blatant attempt at gaining a mainstream audience. The Kane Beatz, um, beat seems like it was built for a song much more serious in subject matter than this shit, and all four participants fail to fit into the box their label head Eminem has crafted for them. I'm pretty sure that anybody who is still interested in Slaughterhouse at this point doesn't want to heat Royce da 5'9” rapping like a wannabe Childish Gambino. I'm just saying.
Um, yeah, what the fuck was this shit, guys?
16. OUR WAY (OUTRO)
Although the title suggests otherwise, this is no mere rap album outro: all four members of the quartet spit a verse over another Boi-1da instrumental that manages to sound both celebratory and melancholy (as is his wheelhouse), as though even Ryan, Crooked, Joell, and Budden realize that this record deal and the resulting album were all made possible by a business transaction where Eminem purchased all of their respective souls. Sigh.
The deluxe version of Welcome To: Our House contains four additional songs.
17. ASYLUM (FEAT. EMINEM)
The only “actual” Eminem production on all of Welcome To: Our House (aside from the skits, all of his production credits have been secondary to the folks who actually handled the beats) leads off the extra four songs. Music-wise, Marshall shows an incredible amount of restraint: this is easily his most minimalist instrumental ever. However, he still insisted on delivering the hook, an overly-wordy mess that sounds so embarrassing that I'm left wondering why the man still continues to receive a free pass in our chosen genre. Joell, Crooked, and Royce all take to the titular theme spectacularly, though, adopting hushed, slowed-down toned to deliver their verses, forcing the listener to hand onto their every word. Had it not been for the hook and the messy introduction, this would have been one of my favorite tracks on the entire album. Sigh.
18. WALK OF SHAME
Because hip hop is sorely lacking in songs about kicking a sexual conquest out of your bed-slash-room-slash-house the following morning that sample the Band Of Skulls song “Light Of The Morning”. That's the only possible void this StreetRunner-produced shitstorm could have possibly been created to fill.
19. THE OTHER SIDE
Even the bonus tracks feature problematic sequencing, as this serious mediation on how a rapper's personal life can wildly clash with their public persona comes directly after a song about forcing bitches to take a “Walk Of Shame”. The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League beat was actually pretty good, if a bit poppy, and the hook was a bit too on-the-nose, but Ryan, Joell, and Joey all deliver interesting takes on the material, especially Ortiz. (Crooked I is nowhere to be found.) Probably could have made the proper album without much of a fuss.
20. PLACE TO BE (FEAT. B.O.B.)
Anyone who cares to remember Eminem's cameo on B.O.B.'s “Airplanes Part II” may find solace in the fact that Bobby Ray's returning of that favor landed him on the final track on Welcome To: Our House. The Kane Beatz radio-ready instrumental finds our hosts all trying to walk that fine line between lyrical wordplay and audience alienation, often utilizing a hushed vocal that sounds so unnatural coming from these guys (unlike that of “Asylum”), all while their invited guest sings the hook and provides a verse (but, sadly, does not play the guitar). The track overall was bland and cannot be recommended to anyone, but the final verse does culminate in all four members of Slaughterhouse passing around the microphone, which is actually a pretty fitting way to end the project.
THE LAST WORD: That ruckus you hear in the background is the sound of Slaughterhouse being thrown under a bus by the Shady Records marketing machine. Welcome To: Our House is a disappointment on nearly every level: the beats are mostly atrocious, poppy confections that won't appeal to fucking anybody (save for a couple), there are far too many tracks to keep things interesting (even on the standard edition), and, most heinously, the lyrical skills of Royce, Crooked, Joell, and, yes, probably Joe Budden are overshadowed by studio trickery, goofy themes, and, well, Eminem's general influence. The quartet manage to sneak in a few choice verses here and there, and each member gets their own time to shine eventually, but overall Welcome To: Our House suffers from a lack of identity, its mainstream leanings clashing with what Slaughterhouse actually wants to be when it grows up. The Eminem association will earn them a few more sales, and I'm sure the paychecks are much nicer than they were at E1, but I'm not convinced that this was a good idea for the quartet, and not just because Marshall somehow conned these guys into recording over two separate Alex da Kid beats. I'll keep checking for any new material these guys put out, but yeah, this album was pretty much dead in the fucking water, which is a goddamn motherfucking shame. I blame Eminem. Yeah, I said it.
B-SIDE TO AVOID: “HAMMER DANCE (EL-P REMIX)”
Easily one of the most bizarre things I've seen pop up on other hip hop blogs this year. Unfortunately, I like the fact that this remix exists more than I like the actual song: underground stalwart El-P, who's had a hell of a 2012, lends Welcome To: Our House's first single a harder instrumental and some scratching, neither of which actually fit the proceedings, as it threatens to bury all four participants. I prefer the original take by a country motherfucking mile. Still, once again, it's nice to know that this is a real remix and not a fan marketing his own product behind a lie.