I drive a big new maroon and bronze two-tone Ford F-150 XLT. It gets 17 miles to a gallon, which is an improvement over the white Tahoe I just sold. The main trouble with the truck is that the CD player is in the back seat. Once I load up the six CD’s, I’d rather listen to whatever is in there than take the time to change it. Until mid-February I still had a Christmas CD in it. I live in the West, and I drive with no particular purpose other than to drive, and I listened to those six CDs over and over. This month’s reviews are two of the newest CDs I put in my pickup.
I don’t know if I am hip enough to comment on Everlast’s solo CD. In fact, I’m not sure if anyone is that hip. Many of the tracks play like inside info, a code known only to the initiated. The syntax of the lyrics is peculiar, tribal, and meant for those that know the culture that Everlast raps about. The best known track, “What It’s Like” is a rough song, with difficult subject matter – begging, crime, abortion – but the treatment of the material is compassionate. The minimal guitar work and the toned-down drums enhance the futility of the lyrics. Beyond this track, the rest of the CD is a combination of rap, hip-hop, funk and gospel, with a touch of blues
The most powerful of these influences is rap, but it also feels the least true, the least real. Track five, “Get Down” has a good heavy beat, but Everlast too often falls into the cliché of rap – bragging: “When you referring to me best respect my name.”
At its best, rap and hip-hop makes you want to move; however, take away the aggressive delivery of the lyrics, and what is left can be some seriously stupid shit. Track Nine, “Painkillers,” is the silliest thing I’ve heard in a long time. Musically, the track is sparse, with not much more than a drum section, but the lyrics tell of some idiot smoking weed in public and bragging about his money: “Nobody’s sneezing at the money I fold.” Then he gets shot in the Five Seasons, which must be a tricky way of saying the Four Seasons (and everyone knows the big bucks that it takes to stay there), after shooting off his big mouth: “I’m wearing this scar because I tried to play hard.” He ends up paralyzed: “To walk again I just might sell my soul and I am only twenty some years old.” What sort of sentimental garbage is this?
But before you can dismiss him as merely another posturing rapper, Everlast displays some flashes of insight. “The Letter” opens with a piano solo, and the lyrics that follow recognize a man’s part in the break-up of a love affair when he sees his woman with another man. Rather than make the other man bleed, he decides that “If that man make you smile I guess I’ll just respect it.” Not the most articulate of renderings, but the thought is in the right place.
Often it feels that Everlast is trying to infuse his songs with every type of music he likes, as in “Praise the Lord.” The song opens with a funk beat and a hymn-like wailing in the background. Everlast chant, then raps. These odd elements make for a twisted rap take on gospel music. On the following track, “Today (watch me shine),” Everlast sings with a gravelly pleading voice, which provides a sharp contrast to both the preceding and following tracks. He seems unable or uninterested in a prolonged exploration of any one type of music.
Ultimately, the CD’s strength – the urgency and jittery energy – also proves its weakness. At his best, Everlast produces “Guru,” which throws hip-hop and disco into a rap format using disparate elements to make something new and interesting. He too often sacrifices the musical depth found on “7 Years,” a mix of singing and rap where rap adds to the overall texture of the song, in favor of an overflowing hybrid rap/disco/funk/blues/gospel/hip-hop thing. It is too much. The beauty of “What It’s Like” is its simplicity.
Someone purchasing this CD and expecting blues and more songs like “What It’s Like” will be disappointed. (As Everlast, on MTV, has himself admitted). For those searching for an eclectic mix of musical influences with lots of energy and lots of rap, Everlast comes through.
(One Humane Society sponsored note, though: I suggest he neuter the pitbull, who is pictured on the back cover of the notes. The American Staffordshire Terrier can be a delightful pet if properly trained. The wicked photo is a disservice to the breed and perpetuates the stereotype that real men need real mean dogs with real big. . . )