March 16, 2014

My Gut Reaction: Tash & Black Silver (The Navigator) - Blood, Sweat & Beers (September 2, 2013)

In honor of St. Patrick's Day tomorrow, a holiday for which I'm certain the only two known ways to celebrate are to get sloppy drunk and to wear green somewhere on your person, today I bring to you two a review for a project that I was aware existed, but wasn't looking much forward to actually listening to.  It comes from one-third of the are-they-or-aren't-they-defunct hip hop trio Tha Alkaholiks, specifically the one-third that you all were frequently naming as one of my favorite emcees when the comment sections of various posts were filled with your best guesses, and to be honest, I'm terrified that listening to this will cause me to rethink my position.



Rico "Tash" Smith hasn't really had much of a solo career: for the most part, he relied on his Likwit Crew connections to help him remain sharp behind the microphone.  His punchline-and-braggadocio style sounds pretty generic when written out like that, but his dominance of many Alkaholiks tracks not only shifted the focus to him (and away from his bandmates J-Ro and E-Swift), but also caused me to give a shit.  He was a team player through and through, though: he was in no hurry to go solo, as his back catalog suggests.  His solo debut, Rap Life, was released in 1999, and his follow-up dropped ten years later.

So a mere four years after the forgettable-as-fuck Control Freek, and several years after the dissolution of Tha Alkaholiks (although rumors persist that Tha Liks are recording a joint album with their East Coast equivalents The Beatnuts, and have even named their supergroup LikNuts, which is fucking hilarious to me, there have only been a couple of tracks that have floated from the clouds, and neither of them have had much of an impact, so who knows what the status is of that project), Rico decided to release a third album, Blood, Sweat & Beers, for...financial reasons?  Mid-life crisis?  An escalating series of dares that will next lead to an attempted heist of the MGM Grand?  Who the fuck knows?  All I could figure out is that he did so without the support of any real label support: while Rap Life was released by Tha Liks' Loud Records home, and Control Freek came from Amalgam Digital, Blood, Sweat & Beers is being digitally distributed by something called Sterling World Records.  

And that he didn't do it alone.

Instead of calling upon one of his (former?  Seriously, it's difficult to keep track) bandmates or one of the benchwarmers in the Likwit Crew (while I'm sure Xzibit was otherwise busy, the fuck else was Defari doing?), Tash looked to Black Silver, an underground artist (who also goes by "The Navigator") who claims membership in the Analog Brothers (a Kool Keith side project that also featured Ice-T) and the Likwit Crew (huh?), and who I'm certain the majority of you two have never heard of until today, even though he's released a ton of material through the magic of the Interweb.  Conveniently, Black Sil is also signed to Sterling World Records, so this project quickly became an album-length collaboration, with Tash also roping in unknown producer Pi Beats into the mix to handle the bulk of the deal.  He also called in a few favors from some of his friends, lending this project one of the most guest lists of recent memory.

Once again, I say: huh?

1. BLAST INTRO
A word to the wise: if you plan on throwing a funny interlude onto your project, make sure the damn thing is funny. This should go without saying, folks.

2. YOU WON'T (FEAT. RAS KASS & SELF JUPITER)
DJ Obi's instrumental sounds like store-brand West Coast, but in a somewhat welcoming way: its simplicity is rather refreshing. The actual verses, for the most part, are standard-issue and forgettable, though, so “You Won't” doesn't take your breath away. Tash sounded alright, if much older than during his Alkaholiks heyday (how could he have possibly aged thirty years since the time Control Freek dropped in 2009? What kind of science is that?), whereas Black Silver and guest star Self Jupiter come across as grateful Make-A-Wish recipients. (Ras Kass only performs on half of the chorus.) A shame, as the beat could have been slaughtered by Tash's actual known associates. Oh well.

3. THE LIKWIT (FEAT. KING T & E-SWIFT)
For obvious Alkaholiks-related reasons, “The LIKWIT” was the song I looked forward to hearing the most on this project, but the end result is merely just alright. Thayod Ausar, who has also lent beats to Xzibit, produces an instrumental that's okay (but not mixed properly, although that's hardly his fault), but a bit too repetitive, thus preventing repeated spins. All four artists involved don't interact with each other, either, leaving Tash isolated from his bandmate E-Swift (who usually just produces, but drops a verse here) and his mentor King T (who doesn't sound like himself). Everyone involved is technically proficient, including Black Silver, but “The LIKWIT” still ends up sounding more like the blueprint of a posse cut than it does a successful posse cut. The hell?

4. SIP N STIR
Although the titular phrase does appear in the song itself, the words “you can't run” pop up more often, and the verses from our hosts skew much more toward threatening shit-talk than they do drinking. DJ Obi's beat is radio-friendly but not bad, and even though neither artists is a good fit for the musical backing, both Tash and Black Silver make valiant efforts. This wasn't terrible, but I've long since forgotten how good Tash can sound when paired with an act he has actual chemistry with: seriously, Rico, you couldn't get J-Ro to at least leave a verse on your voicemail?

5. BEE'S & HONEY (FEAT. 8-OFF AGALLAH)
Rappers are going to talk about their various pursuits of happiness, that “happiness” being cold hard cash: that's a given. But one would hope that they would make the topic sound much more interesting than on the damn near somber “Bee's & Honey”. Tash tosses off dollar amounts as though he's bored to death of this hip hop trope, which makes me wonder why he ever agreed to participate in the first place. Black Sil at least tries to enjoy himself, although his repeated references to “[his] Likwit family” throughout the album are curious, as I didn't realize they were accepting applications this late in their careers. Surprise guest 8-Off tries his hardest to inject some energy into the proceedings, but he doesn't have the luxury of a good beat to work with this time around. A shame.

6. WIRED (FEAT. KOOL KEITH & TRISTATE)
I was really hoping to hear a collaboration between Tash and “Kool” Keith Thornton, but Tash took the day off from recording, apparently, so Black Silver invited his fellow Analog Brother to the studio, even promising to help him move if Keith would be so kind as to lay down a verse. The hook on this Pi Beats concoction is fucking motherfucking awful, so it's up to the lyrics to bring the track home, and “Wired” falters there, as well. The artist formerly known as Dr. Octagon even throws in a fart joke: that's how uninspired “Wired” is. And yet, Keith's quote for a guest verse, which he throws out as an aside at the very beginning, somehow mysteriously increases by the time his actual verse ends. I need to write something good about this song, so give me a minute...um...uh...I guess the instrumental was alright? Can I move on now?

7. BLAST SKIT

8. FUTURISTIC GANGSTER (FEAT. SPICE 1, ERULE, & BLUZI)
Still not sure how a song can be called “Futuristic Gangster” when it evokes two elements from the past: I didn't realize that The Steve Miller Band's “Fly Like n Eagle” and Kool & The Gang's “Jungle Boogie” needed to be combined until I listened to this Pi beat. The sung hook (performed by Bluzi) is goofy, but weirdly, everything else on here didn't sound too bad, even though a producer with more experience could have made the use of the “Jungle Boogie” sample sound less jarring. (That will come with time.) Erule, Tash, Black Sil, and Spice 1 (I know, right?) all sounded pretty engaged, if not quite with one another (see: my thoughts on “The LIKWIT”). Overall, I'd listen to this one again, but it's not the greatest collaboration in the history of the medium or anything.

9. GETTING MONEY (FEAT. RAS KASS)
Show of hands: how many of you two wanted to hear Ras Kass rhyme about getting that paper? No one? Oh, one gut that's clearly just messing with me? Well, fuck you, asshole: “Getting Money” features just that. Over a poptastic Pi beat that makes absolutely no attempt to differentiate itself in any possible way, Tash and Black Sil, along with Rassy for some reason, all rhyme along to one of the oldest rap tropes of recent memory, a tactic that really makes no sense when your realize how not wealthy these guys actually are. This could have been considered as satire had I not just spent four-plus minutes feeling back for Ras and Tash (I have no such qualms about Black Silver, obviously). Sigh.

10. SKEPTICAL (FEAT. MEDUSA, PRINCE PO, & JHAVOICE)
The random guest star train rolls along, as Prince Po, best known as one half of the duo Organized Konfusion (alongside blogger favorite Pharoahe Monch) pops up on “Skeptical” alongside Medusa and Sade soundalike JhaVoice. I didn't hear Tash on this song, either, which leaves me concerned about the rest of this project. The Pi Beats instrumental is alright, although the sound of a pending thunderstorm is a rather nonsensical artistic choice to play throughout, and the three verses are okay enough, but just like the rest of Blood, Sweat & Beers, they're really nothing special. Yeah, I think you may have just guessed at the ending of this post.

11. THE X (FEAT. TABERNACLE MC'S & GRIFFEN)
I'm not sure how Black Silver manages to score not one, but three tracks on Blood, Sweat & Beers all for himself (and his own guests): was Tash really that uninterested in recording an album? Bookended by a framing device that is bleak as shit, “The X” ends up being a song about boning and criminal activities, aided by a sound bite from The Notorious B.I.G.'s “Fuckin' You Tonight” that could have worked as a hook had producer Monsta Beats not decided to use four bars and repeat them ad nauseum. Black Sil packs the track with virtual unknowns Tabernacle MC's (a duo I know nothing about that share the mic during their single verse) and Griffen, none of whom make much of an impression. The music wasn't completely terrible, though.

12. CAN'T TIE US DOWN (FEAT. RAY BLAYLOCK)
It's gotten to the point where I just expect an R&B chorus on a rap song to suck, so that when one actually isn't bad, I'm pleasantly surprised. The magic of lowered expectations. That doesn't happen here: Ray Blaylock's Auto-Tuned vocals are pretty goddamn shit. Black Sil and Tash (I'm glad you decided to join us today) devote the entire track to the ladies they would love to bone while rationalizing their promiscuous lifestyles (hence the song title). The less said about this track, the better.

13. BLAST OUTRO
Well, at least all of these “Blast” skits were connected. That's saying something, Literally. With that sentence, I actually said something about these skits. And now I'm done.

THE LAST WORD:  What follows is the description of Blood, Sweat & Beers copied-and-pasted directly from Tash's Bandcamp page:
 


"Tash & Black Silver's "Blood,Sweat & Beer's" has arrived in a blaze of brand-synergized, guest-packed glory. Definitely living up to the hype! These guys are innovators. Musically, they tend to be a step ahead of any given curve, whether it is elevating a sample, seeing brilliance in a up and coming producer named Peyam Kourosmehr, or beating everybody back to the old school with hard beats and great rhymes. It was inevitable that they would attempt to reinvent the way albums are distributed. And the whole marketing of this album is as new as it is fantastic."

Many of you two will probably see where I'm going here, but for those of you who cannot, I'll elaborate: this album sucks.  But it sucks not only because Tash's lyrics are uninspired at best and boring at worst (Black Silver manages to do a bit better, but by hijacking the project, he loses many points from me), and not because it's clear that Tash couldn't afford better beats, having spent all of his discretionary cash at the nearby liquor store: no, Blood, Sweat & Beers sucks because it's clear that nobody involved really gave enough of a fuck to create a quality product.  They couldn't even proofread the goddamn press release!  The ability of any artist to release his or her work through the Internet, bypassing the needs of traditional distribution models, is indeed fascinating, but when you have this kind of direct relationship with your fans, you lose the ability to see the forest for the trees.  Hell, if I had an editor of my own, I'm certain that a lot of my posts would be rewritten to high heaven before I ever published them.  I hope Tash earns enough money from this project to reach whatever personal goal he had (a couple of the tracks were okay enough, and with a proper mixing, could maybe become interesting), but if this is the kind of output we should expect from him in the future, I say we scrap that LikNuts project entirely and cut his legacy off right after that last album from Tha Liks.  I'm disappointed more so than usual in this shit because of the whole Tash thing.  Fuck this album.  I'm moving on.


-Max

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5 comments:

  1. Weird, I just listened to Rap life again last night. Huh. Now that was good album but the only Tash solo I'll ever bother with. How about a review for J-Ro's debut album?

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  2. I liked Tash. 'The Next Level' was MY SHIT! But I don't care for this.

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  3. Max you gotta give Tash a break.. his life is probably in the gutter right now at this point in his career. He likely skipped college to be a rapper, so now that his rap career is dust in the wind, he is likely swiping his EBT card at the local 7/11. Hard times

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  4. Track two samples "Shroomz" by Xzibit.

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  5. AnonymousJuly 19, 2014

    What makes The LIKWIT even sadder is that j-Ro is left out ._.

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