September 23, 2008
Blu and Mainframe - Johnson & Jonson: Album Review
Blu and Mainframe, Johnson & Jonson (Tres, 2008)
Johnson & Jonson is the latest entry in the Blu album of the month club. Past entries, you'll recall, have included Below the Heavens, which was a lot of people's favorite album of last year, and that CRAC album, from earlier this year, which was actually that good.
J & J
Not unlike that CRAC album, this album is pretty thick with samples, and not necessarily the kind of samples you'd expect to hear on a rap record. This first one, for example, begins with what sounds like it might be chase music from Scooby Doo. It's even got that same "hey" as that one MF Doom record that samples Scooby Doo. Then it switches up to something that's got more of a '60s rock vibe, almost a la Gnarls Barkley.
UP ALL NIGHT
The wackiness of the beat is dialed down several notches. Blu spits god knows how many bars of stream of consciouness, not all of which really grabbed me, though I did appreciate the part about how LL Cool J's "I'm Bad" > Michael Jackson's "Bad," because Michael Jackson is a fag. I swear to god I had a similar conversation with a guy back in 1987. Blu seems rather young to have conjured such a reference, no?
HALF A KNOT
Another one of these ones I'd describe as being somewhat Gnarls Barkely-ish... except that I wouldn't want people to get the idea that this isn't enjoyable. Ha! You just don't hear these '60s rock textures in as many rap records, even though I'd say this one has got as conventional a hip-hop thump as anything else here.
MAMA TOLD ME
The sample on this one is a little bit busy and doesn't have as much of an obvious thump, and hence this one ends up being kind of a cacophonous mess.
THE GUSTO ROOM
The main funk guitar loop here provides a '70s-era pr0n flick vibe. Then the horns during the chorus add a bit of an hispanic flourish. Of course, the two combine like chocolate and peanut butter. I think the raps have to do with a casino, but I wasn't paying that much attention. My bad. I had gotten a bit sidetracked.
This one's central motif sounds like it might be R&B backup vocals taken from the kind of record Ghostface would sample. It's too bad more songs these days don't have such backing vocals. I wonder if any of the Pips are still alive. I know a lot of these older R&B ninjas have been purchasing a farm lately.
THE ONLY WAY
And speaking of Ghostface, this one borrows Ghost's old trick of rapping over an entire song, complete with vocals and everything. The cool thing about it is that Blu's vocals actually interact with the song he's rapping over, so it's almost like a duet.
IN THE BUILDING
Blu just spits adlibs on this one, while some other guy sings. But the guy who's singing is hardly doing any more than adlibbing himself. And there's also vocals in this sample. If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that smoking weed can cause you to lose track of things.
BOUT IT, BOUT IT
I've got good news for you. This doesn't appear to have anything to do with the Master P record of the same title, which still haunts my dreams, years and years after the fact.
Whoa, it's the same sample as that one Ultramagnetic record. And it's flipped in more or less the same way, except that maybe it incorporates one extra bar of horns, and then a few more during the chorus. Don't let Kool Keith find out about this. He's yet to get over Andre 3000 jacking his steez, and I doubt 3 Stacks knows Ultramagnetic MCs from whatever it is people in the South used to listen to back in the 1980s. (Probably R&B music, right?)
LONG TIME GONE
For a guy that's not as old as I am, Blu sure does have a whole lot of records where he reminisces about back in the day. Seriously, what's the cutoff for being old enough to talk about some shit that happened "a long time ago?"
STILL UP ALL NIGHT
Oh no, it's a sequel to that one song, but with some other guy with a much thicker LA accent providing the raps. We'll just call him Budget Ras Kass.
A PERFECT PICTURE
I skipped this one to get up and take a piss.
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE
Two dudes trade raps back and forth over what might be incidental music from the same pr0n film that was sampled on "The Gusto Room." This probably wasn't really necessary.
This one isn't as bad as it is kinda redundant.
HIDDEN BONUS TRACK
Whoa, is that John Lennon they got on the chorus? I thought he died a long time ago. No but really, I'm not familiar with that sample (sue me), but damn it if that isn't an inspired bit of sampling. Just don't let Yoko Ono find out.
COMMENTS: Johnson & Jonson basically works the same formula as that CRAC album, from earlier this year, which I enjoyed quite a bit, i.e. Blu-raps way less pretentious and way more tossed off than anything on Below the Heavens + wanton sampling = 45 minutes of rap music more enjoyable than anyone on Def Jam is gonna come up with this year - or again evar, for that matter. The production, I don't think is up there with the CRAC album, but it's still pretty nifty at times.
BEST TRACKS: "Half a Knot" "The Gusto Room" "Hidden Bonus Track"
Byron Crawford a/k/a Bol is the celebrated author of several books, most recently NaS Lost: A Tribute to the Little Homey.
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