by Eric Paolini
Rap music, like any other art, goes through phases. It's had stages of light and dark, grimly serious to carefree, socially conscious to obsessed of material possessions. Not only did the lyrical stylings change, but so did the music.
The greatest era of rap is the early to mid 90's. There's a grittiness and rawness I appreciate in the Wu Tang Clan. While the predominant gangster rap is not completely socially conscious, groups like Public Enemy and The Roots were. There's an emotional aspect I appreciate in Tupac. And there's the mesmerizing tone of Biggie.
At some point the focus changed from the flow and storytelling so many 90's artists exhibited (even with the blurred lines of reality) to a repetitive, dance club inspired, vapidness. The overuse of auto tune (really any use is too much) pervades the industry. The obscene focus on jewelry, cars, and women are all there but without any listenable style in music or lyrics.
When I stumbled on N.O.R.E.'s first official single ("Built Pyramids") released of his album Student of the Game which is a throwback to 90's rap. Without knowing the song was released earlier this year, you would have guessed it was from 1995. The song has a strong emphasis on Queensbridge, bringing a focus back to the city as opposed to da club. Referencing NBA Queensbridgians (Queensbridgites?) again calls back the strong NBA-rap tandem. (Referencing Laker forward Metta World Peace as "World Peace Artest" is the second best reference only being topped by a Wee-Bey reference in the promotional single "Finito").
The Jazzmatazz stylings (with a bit more edge) make "Built Pyramids" the easiest and most enjoyable listen. The rest of the album is a bit more up and down. The titular track "Student of the Game", "Vitamins", and "Dreaming" are all solid as well even with "Vitamins" slightly too repetitive chorus.
Unfortunately, the album is split between old school and new school stylings. For every song that has classic rap inspiration and stylings, there's something like "Tadow", "Thirsty", or "She tried". (Although, I must admit I haven't made it more than thirty seconds into "She tried". Way, way, way too much Lil' Wayne). These songs bring nothing to the table creatively or artistically.
"Tadow" is a truly terrible song. It is easily my least favorite song on the album (or in music generally). Lyrically it's worthless. They're thrown out in short bursts that are grating to listen to with the ridiculous grandiosity of most rap that's uninteresting. There is no conceivable flow in the lyrics. Even some of the harshest rappers have at least some semblance of flow in their music (thinking of DMX in particular). It is no coincidence that featured on this song is 2 Chainz, one of the biggest names in current rap. I can only assume his presence influenced the style of the song.
This seems to be a common element throughout the album. There are a number of featured artists that help create songs that are not that similar. Like I previously said, "Built Pyramids" has a Jazzmatazz quality to it and "Dreaming" has a heavy R&B elements. This creates an album that doesn't appear to have a consistent idea from song to song.
Will Student of the Game start a revolution in the rap game? Probably not. But a few songs will be a nice addition to some of the classics of decades past.
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