Monday, October 31, 2005

Little Brother -- The Minstrel Show: Review

Damn, I fell for it again. I should have learned my lesson after suffering through watered down major label releases from once-reliable (when they weren't on majors, naturally) groups such as Jurassic 5, Blackalicious, and Dilated Peoples. The fact of the matter is this: these days it is impossible to drop a classic or near-classic record on a major unless you have had previous success (see Outkast), or are connected to those who have (see Common).

I had read a few very positive reviews of The Minstrel Show, however, and knew about the controversy regarding the ratings the album garnered in The Source (1991-1997, R.I.P.) and XXL magazines. For those unaware, both mags initially were to going to rate, respectively, the album 4 1/2 mics (5 being the highest) and XXL (the highest possible rating); that is until politics and other bullshit (or so I've read) led to XXL giving it an XL rating, and The Source's editorial higher-ups demanding a 4-mic rating. Apparently cooler heads prevailed (depending on how you look at it), and the 4 1/2 mics stood.

A win for the underdog, right? Problem here is that this album isn't worthy of such a high rating, especially from the hip-hop equivalent of The National Inquirer. When you take into account the fact that 'Lil Kim's most recent effort, The Naked Truth, achieved a 5-mic "classic" rating, you know the bar at "The Sauce" is set pretty damn low.

Hey, I really wanted to like this album. I travelled into Gangnam yesterday with the sole purpose being me buying the damn thing. What a mistake. It is definitely not a CD to sacrifice a Sunday afternoon trying to cop it over. I should have played basketball or asked my wife to teach me how to use an abacus.

"Many people tell me this style is terrific
It is kinda different but let's get specific":

1) Welcome to the Minstrel Show

Intro. While not a concept album in the strictest sense, the CD's theme revolves around the fictional The Minstrel Show, a sitcom airing on UBN (U Black Niggas, an obvious reference to UPN). It's a good intro to the album. I haven't been able to get the jingle out of my head for 2 days.

2) Beautiful Morning

It's got a great beat, but did they really need to craft a song about what it's like gaining marginal success and getting signed to a major label? Imagine a fresh, young Hollywood director making a film about what it's like to become a director in Hollywood. Yawn. It's been done to death. In this case, the old addage "don't sing it, bring it" rings true. Hey, I'm happy for you guys, I really am. But I couldn't care less about what it feels like for you to be living your dream. Is this supposed to be innovative?

3) The Becoming

Again, a solid beat by 9th Wonder is slightly overshadowed by a tired song idea, namely the history of the group.

4) Enough

This sounds like it would be (or is) the album's first single. Because it has an R&B hook. Despite that fact, it's reasonably dope -- only again the subject of the song (people criticizing, complaining, and hating on them because of their success) is tired and boring. Jesus, for all this introspection they should have made a song about how Foot Locker doesn't carry their size sneakers, or the gas they get after dinner at Sizzler.

5) Cheatin'

A humorous R&B track by Percy Miracles, who is the alter-ego of Phonte, I think. It's a humorous song, and actually well-produced; but for a piss-take it goes on way, way, way to long (clocking in at over 3 1/2 minutes). It slows the album the fuck down.

6) Hiding Place

It's ironic that this song, which is about nothing more than how dope the MCs (and guest Elzhi, who, surprisingly, steals the show) are, is a refreshing break from all the navel-gazing. Good song. So far all the beats have been tight. And I could love an album filled with barnyard noises as long as the beats are dope.

7) Slow It Down

About relationships and finding a dependable woman. A good beat, but, man, fuck off with the R&B hooks, okay? Let me get this straight: the album title is in reference to the current state of hip-hop music, where artists are being pimped by labels and black culture isn't being dictated by black artists, but by the labels who sign them. OK, I'm with you. But then why do you then allow yourself to be similarly pimped? C'mon, there's no way LB had 100% creative control on this record. Did they realize that and make the album anyway, hoping it would be for a greater good? If so, I feel sorry for them, because this album isn't going wood. They'll be dropped like so many before them because their street buzz didn't equal record sales. Let's hope they only signed a one-album deal, or else we're likely to be subjected in the future to a crappy follow-up, possibly succeeded by a rushed out Litte Brother: The Greatest Hits, containing about 7 or 8 songs from 2 albums. Hey, it's happened before. Just ask the Fu-Schnickens.

8) Say It Again

I like the almost steel drum-sounding percussive melody on this track. It's a fun song, not overly serious. Not great, but good. I should mention here that Phonte is a dope MC. His style is plantains, meaning it's almost bananas. It's obvious Black Thought had a major influence on him. Great cadence. The other MC, Rapper Big Pooh....uh...

9) 5th and Fashion

Skit. Stupid.

10) Lovin' It

Can't these guys come up with some better song titles? This is the album's first really disappointing song. The hook is annoying as hell, and guest MC Joe Scudda's verse is laughably wack. A slow, boring song.

11) Diary of A Mad Black Daddy

Another fucking skit. Not as stupid as the previous one. Still pretty stupid, though.

12) Duck-billed Hunchback Calculator

Just kidding, but that's a better title than the boring and redundant All For You

It's got a fresh topic (for this album, at least): fathers and sons and their relationships. The beat becomes a little too repetative and overstays its welcome. Decent beat, but nothing to write home to Marley Marl over. I should mention that I consider 9th Wonder slightly overrated. The dude can craft a serviceable beat, but he's far from being the second coming of Primo.

13) Watch Me

Another mundane track. Slow. I don't know which is wacker: the song or my review of it. Only saving grace is DJ Jazzy Jeff's guest scratching at the end.

14) Sincerely Yours

Shame on you, LB, for soiling the legacy of Kool G Rap by naming this track after G Rap's classic [edit: I'm an idiot. The Kool G Rap classic is of course titled Truly Yours]. This is a Big Pooh solo joint where he addresses his critics who say his style pales in comparison to Phonte's, and that he's the weak link of the crew. Problem is, the critics are right. I was pleasantly surprised at Phonte's skills as an MC. On the other hand, Pooh's a letdown. LB would be more effective as Phonte and 9th Wonder. There, I said it. Also, it's not smart to alienate your white audience by making fun of them, especially when they're the majority of the people buying your records. Warrants mentioning.

15) Still Lives Through

Ill-conceived ATCQ homage track, replete with annoying Busta Rhymesesque (I've always wanted to write that) "oh my god!" shouts during the chorus. Take away the chorus and it'd be all right, I suppose. I should have executive produced this fucking CD.

16) Minstrel Show Closing Theme

Outro. Utilizes the same beat as the intro, with a slightly different jingle. As good as an outro can be.

17) We Got Now

No, you don't. Still, I can't front, that's a very dope beat.

Another note: I find it hilariously funny that guest MC, Chaundon (remember when MCs had creative names? Me, too. Sigh), says something about "seize every moment", but the lyrics in the liner notes have it as "cease every moment." Rich.

Reading over this review, I realize I've been far too kind to this record. At one point I wrote that the album is "fairly decent." It isn't. In fact, when the wheels fall off around track 9, it's borderline wack. Don't believe the hype. If this is considered a classic album by the next generation of hip-hop fans, I am very worried for the music's future.

Final verdict: 3 *_*/5 *_*


Luke said...

Thatll teach you for listening to anything after 93!.93 till infinity my ass.

Dokdo Island said...

How are You

Let me tell you something about korea, which informations from
dynamic korea (
Today I would like to let you know dokdo islandd.

Among the numerous historical documents showing that Dokdo has been an integral part of Korea since ancient times, the following are the most important official documents:

Samguksagi (History of the Three Kingdoms) is an official history book written in 1145 A.D. on the Three Kingdoms of Korea, namely the Silla (57 B.C. to 935 A.D.), Goguryeo (37 B.C. to 668 A.D.), and Baekje (18 B.C. to 660 A.D.) kingdoms. This book, edited by Kim Bu?sik, a historian and the then prime minister of the Goryeo Kingdom, contains the story of the conquest of Usan?guk in 512 A.D. by Isabu, a general of the Silla Dynasty under the reign of King Jijeung.

In spite of many proofs, japanese don't stop insisting.
They still demand dokdo is japanese called Dakeshima.
However, already dakeshima turned out another island.
This happening will be occured lots of times by japanese government, until they
feel ashamed.

How come do they want korean's small island dokdo.
Japanese government approved wrong history text book, so no more rightous and
truth in japan.
When Poor japanese will be isolated someday, but they keep insisting or trust japanese
government. It seems kind of invasion.
If do not stop bugging, korea government kick the butt.

Sparkles*_* said...

I normally delete all spam I get here (and I get a lot; more than actual comments), but I'm going to keep this one.

I agree with you, good sir: I sincerely hope that if don't stop bugging, Korean government kick the butt. Don't we all?

James from said...

If this Dokdo is such a contentious issue, you'd think Koreans would make more of a big deal about it.

Come on guys, why not make some t-shirts or something?

Komtengi said...

Fuck Dokdo...

I dunno about that review, granted it doesnt stand up to their first album. But by comparison to alot of the crap being flogged on every street corner, its a solid album.
Its tough comparing albums to albums that came out in the 90's.

Sparkles*_* said...

But doesn't it further lead to the dillution of musical quality if one judges an album solely in comparison to everything else currently out?

LB gives an alternative, sure; but it's not as appealing as some other alternatives, such as Common's 'Be' or Kanye's latest. Or Outkast's new album, set to drop in Dec.