February 2, 2018

My Gut Reaction; Redman - Mudface (November 13, 2015)


Shortly before I effectively gave up on this blogging shit for two years, Reggie "Redman" Noble released his eighth solo album, Mudface. The timing wasn't great for either him or myself. On my end, Mudface dropped while I was attempting to go the entire year writing only about West Coast-based artists (and mixtape selections, and random articles about remixes, and the like - you think I forgot what I was trying to accomplish that quickly?), so New Jersey hip hop was out of the question for me. And as for Reggie himself, Mudface marked his first independent release after being released from Def Jam Records, which had been his label home his entire goddamn solo career, and it suffered from the general lack of exposure that underground albums without massive marketing budgets tend to succumb to.
 
Mudface came five years after Reggie, our host's last major label effort, which was itself intended to be (but failed in its execution) a marked departure from his standard-issue boasts-n-bullshit peppered with the timing of a seasoned stand-up: you may recall it was called Redman Presents... Reggie on its album cover. Five years is the equivalent of several eternities within our chosen genre, and as Redman grew older, his career became less and less relevant to the youthful audience that will eventually take all of our spots within the hip hop fandom. Even though Reggie Noble is a celebrated pothead, he was fully aware of this fact (and possibly a bit paranoid), so after securing his release from Def Jam, a label that had long abandoned him anyway (his labelmate-slash-rhyme partner Method Man, with whom he crafted two albums, one failed sitcom, and one cult flick, was also ousted from Def Jam during their purge, which was done to clear up space for (*looks up Def Jam Records' Wikipedia page*) Vince Staples, Justin Bieber (huh?), and... wait, Conway the Machine is signed to Def Jam?), he started up the self-promotion machine, promising his longtime fans that they would see some new music from him "soon".

This meant releasing several freestyles to keep his name alive (including the lauded "Dunfiato" and "Sour Deezal", both of which sound so fucking great that I'm left wondering how Redman would sound over a Kanye West beat of his own, as opposed to swiping from preexisting conditions), along with standard-issue cameos: a solid team player, Reggie is always good for a guest spot for anyone in his extended rap families, the Def Squad collective (which may not exist anymore, but Erick Sermon still works, and Keith Murray isn't dead yet, right?) and the Wu-Tang Clan (which has been his unofficial second home for years at this point). He also took a page from the Older Rapper Playbook, announcing that his next project would be a sequel to one of his higher-performing ventures, Muddy Waters; here in 2018, we're still waiting, and it likely will never happen.

Mudface has a title that implies that this project may have originally been conceived as Muddy Waters 2, but was later altered in during its gestation so that it would have a place in the Muddy Waters Extended Cinematic Universe instead. It houses thirteen tracks, only eleven of which are songs, all of which races by at a brisk pace, lending credence to Reggie's initial promise that this was just supposed to whet appetites for the main course. It features zero cameos from any of our host's A-list friends, either behind the mic or the boards: Redman opted to go Mudface alone, so as to prove that he could do it without assists from Erick Sermon or Method Man. Redman had clearly forgotten that he had already released a bunch of mixtapes at this point through his Gilla House imprint (which also released Mudface), and besides, E-Double hadn't given him a beat since Blackout! 2.

Is Mudface the beginning of a new volume in the Reginald Noble story, or a placeholder we use when, deep down, we know we're never going to get back to this book, who the fuck are we trying to impress?  

Well, let's just see.

1. DR. TREVIS (INTRO) (FEAT. JOSH GANNET)
So he still does these, I see.

2. WUS REALLY HOOD
Reggie Noble goes out to his guesthouse to revive the deceased corpse of his friend and producer Rockwilder, who must have been fatigued from his journeys off of this mortal coil, as his musical contribution to Mudface, “Wus Really Hood”, is less than a minute and a half long. What a waste of an extra life. Our host’s lone verse dabbles with the same clich├ęs, jokes, and metaphors that he’s always played with, from “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan references (which he’s probably done before) to name-dropping McLovin from Superbad (which I know he’s done before, on Ghostface Killah’s “Troublemakers” off of Apollo Kids). But at least they’re delivered well. Flow-wise, Reggie hasn’t lost a step, and to his credit, “Wus Really Hood” could have easily appeared on Doc’s Da Name 2000 without issue (although nobody would have known what a McLovin was, but just go with me here). But it still should have been much better. As such, I guess this was fine?

3. BEASTIN’ (MCA)
Reggie is a known fan of the Beastie Boys (see: Doc’s Da Name 2000’s “Beet Drop” and the Def Squad remix to the Beastie’s “Body Movin’”), so I’m sure he was as devastated as the rest of us when Adam “MCA” Yauch passed away in 2012. To that end, I kind of get why Redman would want to spit bars over a section taken from the Licensed To Ill standout “Hold It Now, Hit It”, and he sounds just fine doing so. However, Reggie’s own production (which really does consist only of the looped-up sample) sounds incomplete, as though our host had grand ideas for a tribute song, but without Def Jam’s financial backing, he just couldn’t afford to do all that much. (Also, the use of the “Hold It Now, Hit It” sample means that he actually had to pay Def Jam for the usage, which couldn’t have made him happy.) Stuff like “Beastin’ (MCA)” makes me believe that Mudface was a mixtape that was upgraded to a real boy at the eleventh hour just so Redman could keep his name out there.

4. GETTING’ INSIDE
Thoroughly uninspired, from the name of the what I assume is a production team (Labor Department? The hell?) to the tossed-off lyrics from our host, spitting his boasts-n-bullshit without any of his trademark humor or animation. The beat was okay-ish: a very familiar drum loop is paired with some out-of-nowhere synths with decent results. But “Getting’ Inside” is pretty fucking boring otherwise. Let’s skip ahead, shall we?

5. MUDDY ISLAND (SKIT)
I liked the reporter character’s line reading of, “Wait, what?”, but based on one of the things she specifically mentions, I’m convinced Redman recorded this dumbass skit for the still-not-yet-released Muddy Waters 2 (or Too, depending on the source), but couldn’t bear to hold his comedic genius back from his adoring fans for long. Sarcastic emoji.

6. N---A LIKE ME
I mean, Redman shot a video for this Mike & Keys-produced trifle, so he must have believed in it, at least. (This also wasn’t the first beat he had ever purchased from the duo formerly known as The Futuristiks.) At face value, it certainly isn’t terrible: Reggie sounds wholly comfortable flowing over a pseudo-reggae instrumental, even if the chorus is a little busy. And you won’t necessarily skip past it if it popped up on random or shuffle. But does “N---a Like Me” compare to the heyday of Reggie Noble? The guy who went from dark and spacey to elastic and hilarious within the span of two albums? No, not really. But at least our guy’s still having fun behind the mic.

7. DOPEMAN (FEAT. STRESSMATIC)
Reggie shot a clip for “Dopeman” as well. The first voice your hear is from guest StressMatic, and is so high-pitched and annoying that you may be tempted to skip this shit, which wouldn’t have been the wrong move, really. Redman flows over Rick Rock’s boom-bap lite like water, but doesn’t say anything of substance (although he devotes several bars to talking about, well, bars, which was an interesting choice), which leaves “Dopeman” way behind in the race. Sigh.

8. LET IT GO
I get that Mudface is Redman rebranding himself as an independent artist, and as such, his budget wasn’t nearly as high as he’s had in the past, but I wish he were able to afford better beats. Am I really supposed to believe that Erick Sermon wouldn’t have comped him a couple? Pretty bold of you to step back out into the world pretending your Def Squad and Wu-Tang connections don’t exist, man. (I know, I know, he’s trying to reestablish his own name and that of his Gilla House crew, and calling on his past collaborators would go against his agenda. But still.) I mean, our host usually sounds alright over most production: dude is pretty malleable. But Jahlil Beats, of “I sold a beat to Lloyd Banks but Bobby Shmurda swiped it and made a more memorable song” fame, turns in musical backing for this cover of the hit song from Frozen, which slips and slides around without ever hitting the mark. Nothing on “Let It Go” will stick to your ribs: I was almost grateful for the brief skit that closes the audio track. Okay, that was a lie, but this song was still bland as fuck.

9. BARS
The title is promising, anyway. Theory Hazit, a producer, songwriter, and Christian rapper, turns in a simplistic beat, one comprised of the bare bones Reggie Noble requires to rip shit up for three minutes. The hook wasn’t necessary, but the verses were fucking fire, as our host spits declarative statements (“I’m a ‘90s n---a, so of course I think my era the best”) and slick takedowns of his former employer (“Def Jam raised they eyebrow / We independent now / You shoulda took care of the cash cow”). “Bars” is far and away the best track on Mudface, as our host proves he is still more than capable of bringing entertaining rhymes to the potluck. Redman’s always been up there on my unofficial non-ranked list of the best rappers of all time, and the fact that he was spitting at this level in 2015, twenty-five years after his debut on EPMD’s Business As Usual, speaks volumes.

10. HIGH 2 COME DOWN
That’s why it’s too bad that Reggie’s always been quick to indulge ridiculous cravings such as this shit. Weed has always played a large role in his public persona, but it’s not everything we need to know about the man, so his latter-day treks into the subject matter, such as this non-banger (credited to Sebastian Arman and B-OK), end up lacking the entertainment value of, say, “How To Roll A Blunt”. Redman also gives Dogg Pound member and known misogynist Kurupt a shout-out, though, which was kind of weird, I guess.

11. WON’T BE FIENDIN’ (THE DEZ REMIX)
That title suggests that this isn’t the original version of “Won’t Be Fiendin’”, but I honestly don’t know if any mix of this shit would improve the listening experience. The pace is too slow for this bizarre love ode to marijuana (sort of), and Redman raps as though he doesn’t recognize how silly the hook is. Even the revival of his fake radio station WKYA at the very beginning cannot salvage this wack shit. Meh.

12. UNDENIABLE (FEAT. RUNT DOG & READY ROC)
Reggie (finally) decides to promote his Gilla House potholders on Mudface, allowing Runt Dog and Ready Roc to grace illmind’s production on the posse cut “Undeniable”. They do okay, I suppose, but you’ll be left wishing Redman had saved the spots for Keith Murray (serious question: when was the last time these two worked together? Because I have a theory), or maybe Mally G, or literally anyone else that has ever guested on one of his albums, from Method Man to Tame One to his own sister, Roz. The instrumental isn’t very interesting, either, so the only person who gets to walk away from this dumpster fire is our host, and he didn’t sound very inspired at all.

13. GO HARD
The final track on Mudface is the generically-titled “Go Hard”, which lends itself to a truly awful chorus that features our host chanting the phrase repeatedly. Marvel’s production isn’t great, but when compared to the rest of the project, it’s fine, and Reggie’s actual verses prove that he’s still very skilled with the pen. That hook disrupts the evening by being too on-the-nose, and also it just sucks. At least we’re done now.

THE LAST WORD: Why Mudface wasn't just a mixtape release is beyond me: there isn't anything on here that would imply that Reggie Noble's career is worth extending a few more years, aside from "Bars", which crackles with possibility even though we all realize Redman's best years are behind him. I understand not having a ton of money to throw at producers, so you two haven't heard of a lot of the talent behind the boards, but that doesn't mean our host couldn't have been more picky and held out for some of that good good. Reggie's flow is elastic and nimble enough to flow over almost anything, and much of the running time of Mudface seems to be dedicated to giving the audience examples of exceptions. Redman is still one of my favorite rappers of all time, but the longer anyone stays in this game, the harder it is for them to fight against irrelevancy, as hip hop tends not to respect its elders. Redman is smart enough to know this, and has staved off extinction this long, and he'll hopefully be around for many more years. But for a possible future project to work, he has to accept help from his A-list friends: this was the main problem with his last album, Reggie, as well. And text Erick Sermon, for the love of fuck: you guys are friends for a reason.

-Max

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5 comments:

  1. we got blade runner 2049 and jumanji 2 there is absolutely no reason why we can't (finally) get muddy waters 2

    and god willing it's better than this shitty excuse for a teaser

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  2. Stinky McCheeseFebruary 03, 2018

    Damn. Haven't heard this yet, and was hoping for a rave review as he's also among my favorite rappers and Muddy Waters is probably my favorite hip hop album. Saw him just a couple of years ago with Meth, and Redman still has it, and he definitely seems like of everybody in that genre, it's easy imagine him aging just fine; he's established himself enough that as a "do whatever seems like fun" kinda guy enough that it would make sense for him to still be out there at 70 rhyming about weed like a hip-hop willie nelson just because he's still having fun, I'm still holding out hope that he has another great record in him. I suspect that I'll end up agreeing with your review, but I still want to give this a chance.

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  3. I personally like this album for what it is. Don't know if I'll like the sequel, though. Am I delirious for hoping the Dunfiato-Redman comes back? Because that's easily the closest his modern output came to his mid-90s warpath.

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    Replies
    1. I think if anyone from Def Jam from that era is capable of bringing something good to the table, it's Redman. This is mostly because Method Man has already lost it with that Meth Files project, so Reggie's all I have left.

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    2. I still listen to Mef, obviously. While his Meth Lab project was more miss than hit, his verses on the new DJ Mathematics album as well as his features here & there are a fantastic return to form. I’m talking Trillmatic level shit. Allow me to add that his Meth Lab single Straight Gutta is addictive as all fuck.

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