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mc chris: We Need a Zero

posted by Mel on 1/26/03

Despite what the media may be trying to plug into the side of your neck about the risks and follies of the internet--most recently that your best friends are indeed plotting to spike your corporate beverage of choice with a highly deadly poison/oven cleaner because you wrote some homeroom skank's name on the spine of your Trapper Keeper--the only real risk one runs in puttering around the barren wastes of what was once this promising Kingdom of the Blind is the alkaloid reaction that happens when a geek, freak, or hunk of floating social offal gets a little sample of celebrity.

We see it all the time. Nothing spoils a good party like a whiff of the intangible notion that somewhere out there, not only is someone plugged into our stream of consciousness, but moreso that they honestly CARE what the misfiring synapses of our Self has to say about the price of a pound of shit. Not to say that there isn't some kitschy currency in watching the endless caucus race of nobodies, wannabee Hollywood power pimps, nostalgia hucksters and 'writers' marching in lockstep, convinced that somehow, AT THIS VERY MOMENT, the movers and puppetmasters of pop culture are combing the grandma's attic of the internet in search of the next zeitgeist... but it just gets plain ol' ugly when a little notice goes a long way in fucking up a decent bit of business.

Case in point and around the mulberry bush, the continuing saga of one mc chris. For those of you just tuning in, the backstory; helium-voiced Jack Osbourne midget makes good with the best fucking album you've never heard of, circa early 2002. mc's "Life's a Bitch and I'm Her Pimp" exploded out of the gates and geocities last year after getting a snippet of its title track, 'Fett's Vette' making the cut on an episode of Cartoon Network's retro-car wreck series 'Sealab 2021'. On the power of little more than a few bars dedicated to the most overexposed entity in all of geekdom, 'Fett' blasted into the collective ear canals of the fringe community like a missile strapped to a couple of J-77 Event Horizon engines.

And with good cause; despite the subject matter, there was nothing fluffy about the way that the author handled his flows. Cramming in tongue-twisting feats of rhyme without missing a hitch, mc's arrival heralded the rare pop animal: an artist whose raw talent elevated his subject matter by default. 'Life's a Bitch' may have been a valentine to the nerd nation at a skin-deep level, but it was nothing like the geek-rap ballads pushed by camp punks like Dr. Demento. This was serious. It had spine. In places, it was almost too easy to cut and paste some gratuitous Rolling Stone magazine-type pomposity on the proceedings:

"..mc commands the microphone with such prodigal recitations as these; 'Got a job to do and Darth's the guy that delegates/going after Skywalker or someone he really hates/I don't give a fuck, I'm after Solo/For all I care, he could be hiding at Yoda's dojo'. The timerity of his prose heralds to the genesis of young anger and its marriage with poetry, with Dylan-esque lyrical influence on a pop-fluid wave of neolithic sampling and synth.."

Regardless of the backlight cast by the grassroots nature of the album, there was no reason to be anything but excited when it was reported that chris was heading back to the lab to put some weight on a new production. With all the creative momentum built on a solid fanbase out of 'Fett', 'Robotussin', 'Fuckin' Up My Christmas', and the amusing John Bowie 'tween-'tros thrown in, sugarplum fantasies of a real ten-track heavyweight ode to the geek condition began dancing through the brains of the fans who had jacked in in the early going. Nothing puts a creme' brulet crust on the cynicism soup of life in these shitty times than witnessing the supernova of an artist.. in any field.. who has a real chance to make it. Rare as it may be.

However, the yellow lights started popping up around summertime. The intimation from mc himself that he was forgoing the candy-audio TNT flavor of 'Life's a Bitch' for something 'darker' was mildly worrying, but could be flicked aside in the gestalt view. After all, this was good stuff. Likewise, the news that the album would be sold out of the cyber-trunk of chris's website seemed like a logical evolution. After all, 'Fett' did massive return business in the realm of ent-rant zealotry.. why stick to the roaring red guns of communism when a good product could earn a couple coins? Nothing personal, and production plugged on. I dumped down ten bucks hardaway when it was announced that the album was completed and on the press--and a week later, sprawled on a dirty carpet somewhere in Rose City, I cranked up my headphones and fell into my freshly unwrapped copy of 'Knowing is Half the Hassle'.

Thirty minutes later, the red light had officially landed. All that momentum, and the first genuinely excited purchase I'd made in the realm of music in the better part of the year, evaporated in a figurative three-hundred foot long skidmark and the fresh stink of burning rubber.

It's very, very rarely a good thing when a performer decides that they've got a 'statement' about 'society' to deliver; with the exceptions of old hands and global affairs veterans like Bono, latterday beatnik progenies like Johnny Depp and even the asphalt-burn raw tales that come off of a Dr. Dre album, musicians are among the most self-indulgent and bloated social commentators in the realm of freeform expression. More often than not, the ability to scrawl lyrics and pluck a few strings somehow translates into a membership card for the Country Club of the Poignant Culture, real dues be damned--the teenybopper crop of shitty pop stars pushing weight about global warming while cruising Rodeo Drive in a candy painted Expedition.

Unfortunately for the fringe cause, it's this same sort of speechifyin' that runs in common thread fashion through 'Hassle', except in a schizoid fashion that's just plain fuckin' weird. We bounce from clunky backbeats (Apparently learning his lesson with distribution problems over 'Life's a Bitch', the tracks on 'Hassle' are clean as a whistle when it comes to samples.. leaving nothing but audio bones for chris to squeak over) saved by mc's rapid-fire flows on hard-hitting issues such as tittie fucking Kathy Lee Gifford and the Dreadknocks to a series of brick-wall vignettes dealing with the 'issue' of bullies and bullshit.

The work strives to achieve that whole manifest destiny of 'maturity'--a vastly overrated concept for the greater ninety-nine-point-nil percentile of musicians--but can't loosen up the hooks of its predecessor's format. Despite the claims of a 'darker' work, the five songs shadow-box with 'Life's a Bitch' with little exception; mc does factor in a ballad of unrequited freak love a few tracks in, but can't get much heavier than self-referencing about the prepubescent curse of his voice and some uninspired rambling by 'special guest' Andy Merrill, aka Adult Swim's favorite bastard child, Brak.

Rather than streamline the track gaps with the misadventures of chris collaborator John Bowie, 'Hassle's' choice of subject matter and hoo-wee 'Let's just keep talking until we figure something out' community theater improvisation bits are about as complimentry to the rest of the album's tone as slathering up Wonderbread with motor oil and strawberry jam. Bluntly, they fucking suck. They grind on too long. Short of mc's occasionally amusing hamster squeals, they aren't funny or topical, clocking in about half a decade too late to surf the tidal effects of Columbine on the universal nerd and loser consciousness. This turf's been trod before, and to a much more effective tune, particularly with DJ Skullkid's own spoken-word opus 'Beatnik With a Machine Gun'... which dropped onto the national campus scene four years ago. Even the album's payoff track, 'Geek', can't pull its head out of its ass enough to get the message straight--rattling lyrical sabres about the dangers of mixing undergrads and handguns before thumping into rhymes about armor classes and Dinobots.

More or less, it's a projection of the image that mc himself seems bent on putting out there; doublespeaking on the hard knock life of America's downtrodded D & D class while encouraging the readers on his site to invite him to campus parties thrown by the same baseball cap wearing frat-fucks he tries to lay the smack down on 'Geek'. Trying to stack the deck of petty highschool class politics into a format usually reserved for the incendiary ghetto stories of rappers legitimately in the elk-rut of AmeriKKKa's underclass is a tricky proposition, and not given much credence by mc's pleas for his readers to track down a record label to sign him, so he can 'roll on twenties'. 'Hassle' reeks of the same trends, like a seventh-grader whose unknown talents have earned him a kind of crank monkey respect from the popular kids, and now finds himself halfway between the gutter of his chosen social tier and the stars of 'normalcy'. When mc delivers the goods this time out, it's almost as if he's throwing those of us who got hooked like methadone bitches on 'Life's a Bitch's' flavor a bone while making premature overatures towards the Eminem crowd.

All that said, it ain't all shit. If there is a saving grace and a justification to kicking out the chocks for ten bills and mc's illegible autograph, it's the fact that despite the flimsy nature of the album, the driving talent behind the microphone continues to prove himself rocksteady. In the hands of a capable producer and some serious sonics, mc could be poised as a weapon of mass destruction for the Hot Topic crowd. Retroaction is a multibillion dollar industry in the malls of America, and there's always room for a guy who can bounce rhymes for 'goondocks' and 'Tupac' in the same breath; and while 'Hassle' seem like nothing more than a pissoff sophomore Mulligan, mc's trajectory for success still has gas in the tank. Here's toasting to more Jango and less purchase into one's own stock of pseudo-celebrity for the hat trick album in the series, due out this summer.

-m.

PS. I do miss these musty old halls from time to time... thanks for reading and keeping that W-D dream poppin' on all cylinders. At least until we're ALL rolling on twenties.

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