October 23, 2012
My Gut Reaction: Canibus - Rip The Jacker (July 22, 2003)
Canibus is a rapper who, regardless of what you may have read, I actually want to like. In fact, I used to actually dig the guy, back in the 1990s, when his sudden appearance in the rap game resulted in some of the finest cameos of recent memory. For me, the problem started when Canibus started recording his solo albums, when he was given the opportunity to write about whatever he wanted: apparently, all he has ever wanted to talk about was himself.
Yeah, it's going to be that kind of post.
Rip The Jacker is considered by many (including more than a few readers) to be Germaine's finest hour, an album where the man's lyrics were finally matched with a worthy adversary, producer Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind (of Jedi Mind Tricks fame). For the first time in history, Canibus released an album that was produced entirely by a single entity, and not only that, the dude selected was best known for his dark, layered instrumentals, which should have fit Germaine's sensibilities like a bloody glove.
So, of course Canibus had hardly anything to do with it.
My understanding is that Rip The Jacker is more of a label construct than a true collaboration. Having just enlisted in the military, Canibus recorded a bunch of acapellas for his label, Babygrande, to use as they pleased. Said label elected to call upon Stoupe, who had worked with Canibus on his previous effort Mic Club: The Curriculum, to take said acapellas and create songs built around them. Stoupe was handed full creative control over the project; Canibus, for his part, didn't even know the album existed until he purchased it for himself at Best Buy.
I have a bad feeling that story pretty much says it all.
Yep, that's an intro, all right.
Glancing at the tracklisting, I notice that about half of the tracks on Rip The Jacker have titles that attempt to be clever by including part of Germaine's rapping name within them. "Genabis", which actually makes no sense becayse our host's name ends in "-bus", so shouldn't it be "Genabus"?, is the first real song on the project, signifying the birth (of sorts) of the Rip The Jacker persona, and Canibus delivers one long verse divided into three separate parts by Stoupe's Phillip Glass-inspired beat and his weird need to make it seem like Bus actually wrote this as a real song, overly-wordy hook and all. Our host's verses sound fine, if a bit rushed, but the musical backing wasn't quite what I was hoping for with the project. Hopefully that will change soon.
"Lyrically, I'm the illest when my beats is okay." Yes, Germaine actually utters this line on "Levitibus", along with a claim that even his worst album can still be classified as "sublime". The Canibus that spits three verses on here is the hop hop equivalent of a shoegazing indie kid that uses ten-dollar words to feel smart and important instead of writing something people can actually feel, which is actually the problem with Canibus's entire schtick: he uses his hyperintelligence to keep the audience at arm's length, but still wants so badly to be seen as a dope emcee even though he constantly alienates the listener. Lyrically, he's saying almost nothing on "Levitibus", although, admittedly, he's sounded worse. Musically, though, I was fascinated with how Stoupe apparently grew tired of his own work behind the boards , using the third verse as an opportunity to fuck with the status quo.
I couldn't get into Stoupe's instrumental on here: I actually find it very difficult to imagine any rapper performing on here, let alone someone like Canibus who specializes in intricate wordplay and the aforementioned ten-dollar words. On here our host promised that Rip The Jacker was going to be his last album, but he obviously made that claim before being kicked out of the armed forces, so I won't hold that against him. It was kind of weird of Stoupe to fill the "hook" with sound bites from other rappers, all of whom have made more of an impact on the culture than our host (and yes, I'm counting U-God among their ranks).
5. NO RETURN
I actually like it when Canibus presents a bizarre stream-of-consciousness story (I still enjoy Can-I-Bus's "Buckingham Palace" for that very reason), but his three separate tales on "No Return" all push the level of tolerance any audience can have for our host, and not just because Canibus dies at the end of each verse. (SPOILER ALERT!) Germaine's details layered throughout each story are interesting but ultimately useless, as we're never given any reason to give a damn about him in any fashion, and Stoupe's jaunty beat (and crappy hook) sounds like his attempt at mimicking the music from the Super Nintendo game Super Adventure Island (don't front, that game has an amazing soundtrack), except a terrible one. Moving on...
So far I'm not hearing why Stoupe's beats are credited with giving Canibus the finest album of his career: they've all been kind of boring. Even the one on the absurdly-named-but-then-again-what-was-I-expecting "Spartibus" is a bland loop that sounds about seventeen levels away from completion, and Stoupe even makes the insane choice to drop the drums from the hook, relying instead on the percussion from the vocal samples, which makes the entire exercise unsettling. Canibus himself sounds alright enough, but he sounds the same on every single track he's ever appeared on, so that isn't necessarily meant to be seen as praise, either.
Titular pun aside, "Indibisible" contains three of the most accessible Canibus verses that the man has ever written: it helps that he spends the track's duration justifying his place in hip hop and expressing how great he is without really sounding condescending to the audience, which is one of the man's unintentional faults. So it's too bad Stoupe fails him by utilizing chipmunk-speed Spanish song samples on the hook, which seems to have been included just so the producer could claim that, yes, he does listen to music created outside of the United States, why do you ask? "Indibisible" also culminates in an interlude that comes completely out of left field. So far, I fail to see the point of this project.
8. SHOWTIME AT THE GALLOW
Features a Stoupe beat that is far too similar to that of "Indibisible" for it to appear so close to it on Rip The Jacker's tracklisting. Canibus is Canibus, of course, proclaiming his dominance in the rap game while ignoring the fact that he's the only person who even halfway believes that shit to be true, but his repeating if the titular phrase no less than three times is overkill, considering that it doesn't make sense within any presented context., It's probably best that we move on.
9. PSYCH EVALUATION
That title suggests that this song is going to be crazy. What's most insane about it is how goddamn rational Germaine sounds, since the man himself isn't nuts (allegedly), just misguided and occasionally clueless. Stoupe's beat never manages to approximate the inner workings of a psychopath's mind: hell, it's downright upbeat in spots. This was, essentially, a lost opportunity, but it's hard to pin the cause on any specific party, so instead, I blame Mitt Romney.
Finally, a song on Rip The Jacker that's actually really fucking good. Stoupe's dramatic stabs and looped drums complement Germaine's entertaining-as-fuck bars perfectly. I was honestly expecting the entire project to sound exactly like this (save for the "hook", which wasn't absolutely necessary) based on Stoupe's earlier production work and Canibus's tendency to gave at his navel (which he sort-of addresses on "Cemantics", so I'm shocked and kind of appalled that it took ten goddamn tracks into the album to discover a banger. But that's exactly what "Cemantics" is: a banger. I just call them like I see them.
11. POET LAUREATE II
This sequel to a track from Mic Club: The Curriculum is the only time that Stoupe allows Germaine's bars to flow as a single extended verse, which they do for seven minutes. Canibus ends up spitting over three separate backing tracks, the first one (which eventually cycles back at the end) being the finest, with the second sounding like the background music played at a crappy Italian restaurant while you're stewing over the fact that the waitress still hasn't brought over any goddamn bread, and the third being a fucking mess. Fans of our host will gravitate toward this track, since they like hearing their hero spit about unrelated topics for minutes on end, but musically, Stoupe hasn't given the average listener much of a reason to care. It is what it is.
THE LAST WORD: Sorry, but I just don't see it. Rip The Jacker is supposed to be the best Canibus album ever made, claims which were solely based on the fact that all of the beats were created by one guy, thereby gifting our host with the consistency that he had been so desperately craving. But Rip The Jacker still kind of sucked. The fact that Canibus and Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind didn't actually work together while recording this project won't be lost on the audience: I have no doubt that Germaine would never have signed off on approximately ninety percent of these instrumentals had he any authority on the matter. Lyrically, Canibus hasn't learned anything from his previous effort, as all of his verses were recorded without the aid of any music, so he still doesn't prove that he knows how to write a fucking song, but the true failure of this album lies on Stoupe's shoulders, as the man turns in his first true failure as a producer: even without Canibus's constant meddling, he still couldn't manage to make the guy seem likable. Yeah, I said it. Go ahead, crucify me in the comments if you want: you know I'm right.
Catch up with Canibus here, if you dare.