Saturday, July 9, 2011

2011 Collaboration Albums Fall Short

Remember all that madness I was talking months ago, hyping up the recent trend of artists coming together to pool their talents and resources to produce collaborative albums?

Well, simply put, I was wrong about them.

For some odd reason I figured that the union of two separate but very talented musical entities could only result in the highest standard for Hiphop music and lyrics. But I was wrong.

Not only did I see it as an innovative, creative outlet for rappers and Hiphop producers stuck in a genre that is slowly but surely becoming decidedly less creative than its pioneers intended for it to be, but, if done correctly, each project had the serious potential to generate more fans and, perhaps more importantly to the artists themselves, more revenue. But again, I was wrong.

I mean, just the concept of pairing one of the all-time top 5 Hiphop producers with one of the most revered underground groups that is also part of one of the most celebrated collectives of all time; on paper, that team looks unbeatable. But somehow the new album from Pete Rock and Smif-n-Wessun after a bunch of close listens leaves much to be desired. From the beats to the song themes to the uninspired lyrics, the disappointment factor weighs heavy with this one despite a few bright moments of auditory relief courtesy of the album’s choice features that include rap heavyweights Raekwon, Styles P and Sean Price.

Speaking of Sean Price, he, too, has taken the leap into the world of so-called supergroups as one-third of Random Axe along with Detroit rap stalwarts Guilty Simpson and Black Milk, the Dilla student-turned-big time producer who shared mic duties along with handling the album’s production.

Again, this collaboration on paper looks amazing, but after getting to the album’s third song it is overwhelmingly apparent that this project would have been better suited for the free mixtape circuit as opposed to an actual full length album for sale. The beats for the most part are stale, and it is glaringly obvious to the listener that after each song’s first few bars, the beats go nowhere quickly.

On top of that Black Milk’s weak rhymes plague the entire project despite Sean Price’s trademark blissfully ignorant lyrical efforts. Guilty, for his part, barely breaks even with his signature monotone bass-heavy voice.

And then there is Hiphop’s hardest working rapper, KRS-One, who teamed up with Showbiz and then Bumpy Knuckles for two separate albums that, when first announced, evoked feelings of nostalgia for what many listeners hoped would be a musical return to the classic era from where all three of these artists emerged.

But unlike the aforementioned albums, which were still listenable, both the Godsville (with Showbiz) and Royalty Check (with Bumpy) full length albums were borderline dreadful. Showbiz may have recently been on the low for a bunch of years, but when he did emerge with a beat for someone, it was classic Show just like the good old days. So these lackluster tracks he gives to KRS is almost an insult to the listener, who comes to the table expecting way more.

Bumpy Knuckles, aside from his work with DJ Premier, has been on the steady decline for years, and so Royalty Check is not so much a letdown as it is further confirmation of his irrelevancy when it comes to new music. The album is a far cry from their previous, legendary work together.

And finally, there is Bad Meets Evil, the album that seemed so forced from Royce Da 5’9 and Eminem. Royce, one of the underground’s finest rappers, paired with Eminem, one of the most technically precise rappers of all time, probably made this album for the fans, who have long been calling for it. My guess is that like me, they were thoroughly disappointed. Of course the lyrics and rhymes were there, but much like the other albums I’ve discussed here, the production value is almost nonexistent. There is no “nod factor” to at least keep the aural senses engaged. By no means did I think this album would be for the clubs, but something is missing, and because the album was probably rushed so that Royce can work on his own upcoming solo album (due later this month), the listener loses out.

I’ve already gone into great detail about my feelings on the recent Statik Selektah collabo albums with – surprise – Bumpy Knuckles as well as last month’s album with Freddie Gibbs.

Neek the Exotic & Large Professor tried to recapture their magic they created 20 years ago, but no such luck.

Canibus & Keith Murray? Sheesh. You kidding me?

But like an idiot Hiphop fanatic, I’m ignoring the above missteps and have no refocused my attention to some other upcoming collaboration albums. In particular, the critically acclaimed Roc Marciano is teaming up with Gangrene (made up of The Alchemist and Oh No) for an EP (titled Greneberg, a punny combination of Gangrene’s name and the name of Marciano’s heralded debut album, Marcberg, as well as a play on The Alchemist’s Jewish heritage). Again, on paper this project has the potential to be an album of the year candidate. But as we have seen and heard, the involvement of big time producers is not necessarily a guarantee for sonic and cohesive excellence.

The clear [and lone] exceptions to the downward trend of this year’s collaboration albums have been Gunz 'n Butta and Murs & Terrace Martin’s excellent Melrose album.

With that said, I’m still expecting Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch the Throne to not only be the best of all the collabo albums, but also be widely considered for album of the year.

I was once excited for Camp Lo and Pete Rock’s 80 Black From Tiffany’s project, but after hearing the mixtape and after seeing what Pete did with Smif-n-Wessun, I have since lowered my expectations considerably.

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