Monday, March 30, 2009

Havoc - Hidden Files

Studio LP
Released February 24th, 2009

Someone should write a book for the gully emcees - How to Age Gracefully in the Rap Game. Hardcore rappers don’t have the model for how to go deep in the game, what your tone should be, what your lyrics should be about, how you should posture yourself when you are too old to sound hungry anymore. There are a few rappers still releasing albums in their middle age. Jay-Z came out under cats like Big L in the 90s, debuted with the hard-yet-slick Reasonable Doubt, and then sanded and polished his image until he became less and less of a rapper and more of an icon. Ghostface Killah became the hardcore equivalent of the older brother, using his veteran status to voice his opinion about how the younger generation should treat their brothers, their women, their art.

And somewhere in there would be a long list of those who fizzled out, retired, or bombed themselves into irrelevance.

Mobb Deep exploded into the hardcore scene with The Infamous in ‘95, the Queens duo following artist like Wu-Tang out of New York’s worst streets and onto wax. Almost fifteen years later, Havoc has not done much growing as an artist. His newest solo effort, with the exception of a handful of club tracks, obsesses over the idea that he still hustles. That’s fine, you don’t have to become the self-reflective, jaded hip-hop icon or the family man with a haunted past. But if you claim you’re still out there in the streets, make it sound like you’re hungry. That is where Havoc comes up short, in a huge way.

In terms of production, though he veers off into the territory of mainstream rap, Havoc handles the sonic aspects of the album competently, sounding like New York's version of Hi-Tek. He’s average, but solid, and the only complain a listener can really make is that the tracks' production suffers from incredibly generic drum beats. It’s frustrating that underneath all of the orchestrated piano and strings, Havoc sounds like he could not be bothered with the most basic element of hip-hop production and does not elevate the complexity of the drums much beyond BOOM...BAP..…..BOOM.BAP...BOOM...BAP…....BOOM.BAPBOOM.

Lyrically the album has a good start. The first track is “Can’t Get Touched,” where Hav spits: “It’s a very big difference between y’all and us/First of all we clean them guns, y’all be lettin' 'em rust/Let 'em sit around for years then expect them to bust.”

It’s an ironic line, ‘cause you use it or you lose it, and for the rest of the album, Havoc proves he’s overlooked spending any quality time perfecting his art. He visits all the cliches and on most of the tracks he spits as if his mind where somewhere else, the equivalent of trying to get your grandfather to answer your questions while he concentrates on parallel parking. From “Don’t Knock it Til’ You’ve Tried It” he rambles on without any quality material coming out.

“We gon’ have 'em jealous if it’s anything we ever do/Cause anything we ever do we do it like it’s never been/Done even better than, nothing could be better than/You got my adrenaline/Rushin’ when we touchin’...” Listeners who buy the album should feel cheated that any artist would include the verses Havoc does instead of leaving them for mixtapes and b-sides.
New York made itself huge in the hardcore rap genre because of the way the pioneers, including Mobb Deep, crafted gritty yet poetic narratives out of the troubled environments that surrounded them. Havoc doesn’t even come close this time around. At best, the writing on Hidden Files is lethargic, with no real storytelling to speak of and similes as unimaginative as “I grip my nine like an old man hold a cane.” It hurts to have to rip into a rap legend, but at age thirty-four, Havoc already sounds tired, over-the-hill, and no longer able to hold his own in the game.

Beats: 6.5 Lyrics: 5.5 Overall Listen: 6
Lesson learned: If you're still hard, spit hard, or you'll sound like you're faking.

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