Sunday, May 17, 2009

Year of The Great Rap Comebacks? Cam'ron and Eminem return.

by Thomas Matich

Will 2009 be the year that Dr. Dre finally releases Detox? That Wu-Tang Clan's Raekwon The Chef gets off his lazy fat ass and puts out Cuban Linx 2? Will we see that Tribe Called Quest reunion album? De La Soul just put out a running album with Nike, does that count for something?

Ever since LL Cool J rapped "Don't call it a comeback," on his rebound from the ropes magnum opus Momma Said Knock You Out, the idea of a triumphant return to grace is one of the major chapters every great MC most go through when writing their hip-hop history.

Jay-Z sorta did it with Kingdom Come (and then solidified it with American Gangsta), Nas reignited his rap career with Stillmatic, Slick Rick dusted off his heavy gold chains in '98, Snoop Dogg bounced back after that stint with No Limit Records, Cee-Lo made a 180 with Gnarls Barkely, Gang Starr hit us with a Moment of Truth, Common went back to his roots on BE and so on. But, it often seems like we are still waiting for many rappers to make that return to greatness. Where is that Rakim album? When will The Fugees make a new score? Will The Hot Boy$ ever blaze the booth again? Will Andre 3000 and Big Boi go back to just being OutKast?

More often than not, these hip-hop comebacks don't live up to the hype. Anyone check that new Capone-N-Noreaga album? RUN-DMC's Crown Royal? DMX's last one? Ice Cube working with Lil' Jon? Nelly, anyone? With the last example, it's clear that sometimes we don't really care for a comeback. The shelf life of a rapper is relatively short (even more so in the digital age. Anyone heard from Petey Pablo lately?). Where's Lil Mama at?

Of course, there are those comebacks that are highly anticipated and timely, ones that get the press scrambling, blogs buzzing and fans feverish. 2009 is seeing two comebacks from rappers that have been pretty reclusive in the past few years, Eminem and Cam'ron. As widely reported, Slim Shady has been on hiatus due to a drug addiction and the death of his best friend Proof, along with other personal issues that led to Eminem struggling with writer's block. A couple years ago, Killa Cam was beefing with 50 Cent, Jay-Z and then his own crew, The Diplomats. Cam's last album, 2006's Killa Season, like Eminem's Encore from five years ago, was a letdown. Since then, he's spent the last year or so releasing hilariously mysterious "Where's Cam'ron?" videos online and dropping freestyles here and there while, as it turns out, taking care of his ill mother.

But guess what? The bills don't pay themselves! So Slim Shady and Killa Cam are back to rapping like it was 2002 all over again. Eminem's Relapse is the first of two albums he'll put out and all the beats were done by Dr. Dre except for one. Like Relapse, Cam's Crime Pays features little guests, but the majority of the production was handled by no-namers Skitzo and Araabmuzik, so it's the low budget of the two, obviously.

Like a blockbuster summer action flick, Hip-Hop albums can often have generic themes, and the "comeback" is full of requisites. Therefore, it's only appropriate to see what happens when Relapse and Crime Pays square-off. Who isn't as washed up?

Round One: The Comeback Single
Eminem's "Crack A Bottle" vs. Cam'ron's "My Job"

This is the pivotal first move, which often involves plying for radio and MTV rotation, but also not alienating your core audience. How do you let the fans know you're back? If you're Marshall Mathers, you rent out a club with your best buds Fiddy Cent and Dr. Dre and invite everyone to pop champagne because it's all good now that you're back to rapping. It's like The Chronic 2001 again, smoke some trees and vibe to some gangsta beats. Eminem is looking for rubbers to bang groupies. 50 Cent has a lot of money. What else is new?

Cam'ron pulls out a surprise maneuver, a heartfelt sign o' the times song called "My Job." Riding a soulful, nursery rhyme beat, Cam talks about the struggles of a girl working a 9 to 5 and the hustle to the pay the bills while holed up Office Space style. So Cam might have to sell some crack instead! In this recession, it's a genius move! How can you "Crack a Bottle" when you're on Unemployment, Eminem?


Round Two: Spare time song
Eminem "3 AM" vs. Cam'ron "Get It In Ohio"

If a rapper hasn't been rapping for a couple years, what have they been doing with all that spare time? If "3 AM," is any indication, Eminem has been up to some pretty gross shit! Waking up naked at McDonald's covered in blood, jerking off to Hannah Montana and trying to reenact the Silence of The Lambs isn't exactly productive, but it's definitely interesting when backed by some masterfully morbid Dr. Dre beats.

Apparently, Cam'ron has been selling drugs in the interim. Original! He's also been listening to a lot of shitty Southern Rap albums as evident by the beat. He can still pen funny punchlines though, threatening to make you "Look like a Gyro," if you step out of line.


Round Three: The Nostalgic joint
Eminem "We Made You" vs. Cam'ron "Silky (No Homo)"

This is the rapper doing what they do best. For Eminem, it's always those comical pop culture time capsules with zany beats, this one sounding like a cross between Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears' Circus. It's really no different of a song than "The Real Slim Shady" or "My Name Is," except you can exchange pop culture references like Spice Girls for Kim Kardishain. Yawn!

Killa Cam has a knack for using ridiculous samples like the Magnum P.I. theme song or The Police's "Roxanne" and peppering his flashy Harlem swagger all over them to make his own fruity concoctions. "Silky (No Homo)" samples that old 70's R&B record "Groove Me" which you've probably heard in a few different commercials and movies. There's tons of stupid quotes on this one like "I don't work, no job/ Redford, I go rob/ Cream Corn, no cob" that fans of albums like Purple Haze and Diplomatic Immunity will just love. Kinda sounds like something Ghostface Killah would've done circa The Pretty Toney album. But more gay... "Silky," for the record, is a slang term for a black homosexual man.


Round Four: New & Improved!
Eminem "Insane" vs. Cam'ron "Who"

This is where it's time to showcase any lyrical leaps. In Eminem's case, he always shines when he drops shock raps and rhymes about how fucked up his upbringing was. "Insane," is a pretty crazy song, from the racing violins to Em's venomous delivery, where he talks about being raped by his step-dad, being felched and general psychotic lines like "then he played ping-pong with his own ding-dong." It's a super entertaining and disturbing throwback to songs like "Criminal" and "Kill You."

When it comes to Crime Pays, it's hard to pick something in this category because Cameron Giles hasn't really done much to step his rap game up aside from a few different song ideas like "My Job." "Who," has a hyper wanton beat in the spirit of "Get Em Girls" and he's spitting the same wacky punchlines he's been doing since Purple Haze.


Round Five: Getting experimental
Eminem "Bagpipes from Baghdad" vs. Camron "Bottom of the pussy"

Remember when Jay-Z did that song with Chris Martin on Kingdom Come? Sometimes rappers like to take indulgent liberties when they return to the booth. At first, I thought "Bagpipes from Baghdad" would be about Iraq, but it's actually just a song with an Aladdin flavored beat and Em rapping in a half-assed Arab accent. His flow is on point, but the subject matter (Mariah Carey, yawn) is pretty banal.

As far as "Bottom of the Pussy" is concerned, Cam'ron must have been listening to a lot of Lil' Wayne or something. It's a lounge room rap about going real deep in the vagina. If R. Kelly was on this, it would've been much more enthralling. Neither Slim Shady or Killa are doing anything groundbreaking on their records, but instead playing to their strengths which was probably a smart move.


Round Six: Sketch Comedy

Oh, how rap albums love to have skits! Eminem brings back good ol' dirty cockboy Ken Kaniff on "Underground," which makes for a pretty funny gay parody of "We Made You." And of course there's the skits where his managers tell him there's no way they can sell this record because of all the fucked-up shit Em is rapping about. And continuing his tradition, Em does another spoofy pop-culture video for "We Made You."

Cam'ron has some rather funny skits involving crackheads talking shit about him, a skit where he threatens to poop in a girls carseat and a black humor filled sketch where he basically treats one of his ladies like crap over the phone. Even though it's not related to Crime Pays, this is the EDGE right here, even two years after the fact. And I suspect Cam will do another interview like this with a new album coming out and all. Cam is just funnier, even on his off-days.

Round Seven: Style points

Normally, I would predict Cam'ron walking away a winner when it comes to a swagger showdown. The man once pulled off driving a Pink Range Rover through New York. But, Crime Pays fails to offer any interesting fashion trend or new slang ("Curve" is a sorry attempt). Kudos, however, for songs titles such as "Chalupa" and "Cookies 'n' Apple Juice." Sadly, the album cover is of the generic East Coast gangster rap variety. Someone needs to renew Cam's NetFlix, Internet and take him clothes shopping because he needs to update his aesthetic game.

Even though Eminem did jack T.I.'s album cover for Relapse's pill self-portrait, I must admit his music videos for "3 AM" and "We Made You" put Cam's low-budget productions to shame. But Em still walks around dressed in Brand Jordan and Shady LTD clothing and he did that odd Punisher photo shoot for XXL Magazine. His hair is no longer blonde, he's lost weight and he looks like he's had some work done. However, his new flow is wicked and he drops enough drug references on Relapse to make it required listening for pharmacology school.



There will be plenty of traditional albums reviews for Relapse and Crime Pays that discuss the vile lyrics of Eminem, Cam's ever-silly punchlines, the tour de force Dr. Dre production and the brilliance of "I Need A Job." But these comebacks will go down in annals of hip-hop history because of what it says about these two stars.

Somehow Slim Shady catapulted himself out of the Grand Canyon size hole he found himself in - delivering his best work since the Marshall Mathers LP. Cam'ron has proven once again that when he's on his game, even when operating with cheap beats and rap cliches, he's a geniusly eccentric entertainer. In a clash of the titans, both recapture some glory. //DC//


Justin said...

Great post. Much better than a traditional album review that everyone else will write.

thomas matich said...

thanks for the comment.
it's funny, today, in addition to Eminem, Method Man & Redman, Busta Rhymes, and Freeway are also putting out albums that are more or less "comebacks" and I guess Raekwon will actually release his album in August.