Entertainment

ALBUM REVIEW: McSkill ThaPreacha 's album The 9th Chapter is an flawed yet, enjoyable listen

Once in a while, music surprises you and then your summation surprises you. McSkill ThaPreacha’s The 9th Chapter album is one of them; an imperfect album, but a rewarding listen nonetheless.

As much as reviews are purely about emotional reactions, there has to be a balance of perspectives.

This will not be a conventional album review that addresses each song through an x-ray vision that disintegrates the various facets of each song, before making a summation. Instead, it will seek to addresses the summation of the album through the various issues that generally permeate the album.

Why?

The reason is simple; addressing The 9th Chapter song by song might suit it from a song-by-song perspective because this album does not have a central, cohesive narrative, but then, in the end, scoring the album as a body of work will make it seem disjointed and therein lies the first issue.

With a deftly organized tracklist that elevates the listening experience, nearly deflecting or even camouflaging the album’s flaw with a creative cloak, there is an ease of transcendence from one song to another.

play Track list. (Spotify/The 9th Chapter)

The tracklist was the chief strength of this album and the vehicle that drives enjoyability. The tracklist allows the listener to savour each track independently.

The first four tracks were more empathetic, evoking the emotive hue of a rapper who wants his side that feels to be duly felt and represented on those tracks. Bits and pieces of other sides to him or his other personalities that became full-blown on the next five songs intermittently made appearances through the first third.

Of course, it helps that a single producer, Stormatique produced the album. Aided by brilliant production that is primarily rooted in classic beatbox and boom bap and occasional dabbles in ballad-rap, trap music, and drum ‘n bass, there is a central sound, albeit with a diversity subgenres the album boasts.

The next five tracks showcased a savage side to Mc Skill who became more vicious, ruthless and vindictive. 

He addresses people who never believed in him, he addresses an obviously long-held in anger toward mumble rap and the scourge of Oppressors and even discredits the importance of the Permanent Voters’ Card, before going through a kaleidoscope of Memories in a representation of smoke and mirrors.

The final three tracks showcased the empathetic and vindictive parts to Mc Skill, but he was more aspirational, relatable and idealistic. Mic Check and Trust The Process convey topics a lot of us will sufficiently relate with.

The problem though is that the album has no cohesion of thematic base. Ordinarily, that will be a problem for me, but then, I surprised myself. An album should sometimes be perceived from what it is and not what it was meant to be.

There is a cohesive glue on the album and that is Mc Skill himself as the creator-in-chief. Every song addressed different sides to the creator and the many issues he  visibly felt the need to address and that is sufficient because, every topic picked on each track was significantly addressed.

Nonetheless, Mc Skill can be a little self-absorbed. For example, on Oppressor, while he could have stuck to talking about his major theme, he delved a little too much into himself.

The album was mostly told from a first-person perspective, but there is an air of self-absorption that makes the listener want more on some tracks — the feeling that some of those tracks could cut to another level.

Plus points for honest deliveries and storytelling as well. It doesn’t seem he wanted to create a cohesive body of work and that’s okay too — or it should be. This album is not scatterbrained, it’s just different.

Fantastic production

As noted earlier, the production is firmly rooted in classic Hip-hop, beatboxing and boom bap with occasional dabbles in ballad-rap, drum ‘n bass, and trap music. You feel there is a central sound despite the many subgenre diversity.

The production on this album is top notch. Even when the beats are intentionally handled with a sandpaper feel like on Mic Check 2.0, there is a polished, enjoyable sound as the production laid on Italian wood. The production on Walk, Real Talk and Trust the Process are particularly brilliant.

There is a feeling of expertise from the Stormatique as an all-around music maker. An imaginary trip into the embers which Trust The Process was forged make a listener with an obsession with good production appreciate the running water, chirping birds, sneaky snake, and noisy toad effects.

The first part of the album was more contemporary with the drum ‘n bass and trap drums, the second part was more vintage music and the final part, more risqué and out of the box.

Lyricism and flow didn’t always go well with beats

No rapper is perfect, not even the legendary Jay Z who’s arguably not as technically adaptable and enjoyable to several speeds, beats per minute or beat styles as say a Pusha T whom many will say is not on the sae level. Listeners just get used to weaknesses till they don’t appear to anymore.

play The various facets of Hiphop (The Society)

Lyricism and flow sometimes get lumped together, and they are not mutually exclusive but are very different. Lyricism is the summation of the words, metaphors, and technique as applied in the flow while on the other hand, the flow is the application of a rapper’s technique to changing circumstances or adaptability to suitable sounds.

On The 9th Chapter, while you could easily appreciate what is being said, sometimes you could not help but want more from the technique you’re listening to, though by no means poor. Sometimes, it felt like lines with insufficient words get stretched to fill a bar. Other times, it felt like lines with slightly excessive words get choked up, to not spill onto the next bars.

Sometimes as well, it felt like the cadences were a breath shorter or a breath too dense. Other times in between bars, you could find the holes and it’s sometimes exposed by major weakness Mc Skill ThaPreacher has; phonology and word pronunciation.

The problem of phonology and pronunciation

Talent or proven ability is not the problem with McSkill, the problem is that curves have edges. Hip-hop, especially when delivered in English and not in an indigineous tongue or vernacular carries is a demander of accurate word pronunciation.

For some people, it comes naturally, for others they had to learn it. Hip-hop blew off the ebonics and its peculiar accentuation of words, thus many early rappers thought that accentuation of words the standard for quality rap. Other rappers had to learn the Ebonics so they’d get taken seriously.

This same problem of rap prototyping and myopic standardizing is why rappers who spit in their local language or creole barely if ever get the recognition their talent and deliveries deserve. 

Nonetheless, it is what it is, Mc Skill has a mild problem with word pronunciation that reflects where he is from.

Dennis Peter of Filter Free is right and it’s okay to have certain demands of rappers. He says, “It can be difficult to zero in and thoroughly enjoy top-tier lyricism if the words aren’t conveyed clearly and concisely, and I was quite disillusioned from listening to A-Q pronounce words.

“Keeping up with a rapper that labours with word pronunciation is quite the unpleasant chore. Listening to indie rap veteran McSkill ThaPreacha’s recently released album, The 9th Chapter was a chore. 

“Mostly down to curiosity, I pressed play on The 9th Chapter, but my enthusiasm ran out of the window faster than I could anticipate, but I sat — more like wrestled my way — through the whole thing.

“Even if he can be too righteous and heavy-handed with his lyrics, McSkill does have bars, but it’s very difficult to listen when he sounds like he’s rapping while chewing on hot Akara (Yoruba word for bean cake). 

“Beyond the music, though I’m much more curious as to how he’s been able to grow and maintain a fan base across 9 projects with his word pronunciation.”

Harsh, but very true. Mc Skill has bars, but it’s very hard to savour his projects without noticing the H-factor and intonations. It can sometimes be a downer because that’s what rap is and you can’t outrun it, but your fans would have learned to overlook the weaknesses for the plus points.

That said, I am one of the few people who can overlook word pronunciation — through a problem — to enjoy the music, which is really good. Superstar rap legend of trap music, T.I is very rooted in his Atlanta vernacular and accent, it is a part of him.

Like we have learned to live with him, I have learned to take the very faulty pronunciation as part of the package. In the end, though, Dennis Peter is still not wrong. 

Most listeners would probably take objection to Mc Skill’s very pronounced weakness. But then, it’s not a simple issue of black or white; poor or good. There are shades of grey. Here, the problem is present, but there are still bars IF you can overlook the problem. I can because they’re good.

Other topics

This album was definitely handled by a person who will make a really dope A&R; great tracklisting, great topic, suited to each beat and fantastically picked features; each feature fitting perfectly into the music. Props to whoever handpicked Roey for Work, Justina Lee Brown, Shayjtoday, Mic Dailie, Freeborn and even Lasisi Elenu.

His adaptability is also welcome across several beats per minute, subgenres and styles.

Standout tracks

Listen to The Kids featuring Justina Lee Brown, Real Talk and Trust The Process featuring the incredible Freeborn.

Death of mumble rappers is, however, a problematic low I didn’t expect

We are all entitled to our opinions, but the hate mumble rap generate is kind of without depth of thought from Hip-hop lovers.

In mid-2017, DJ Booth wrote an article that said what we were all thinking. The hate toward mumble rap, while not entirely unmerited — as it’s understandable — speaks more to a lack of thorough evaluation.

When boom bap came in the 90s, it was perceived with taciturnity. The same happened when rap/sung launched in the late 90s and then crunk in the early 2000s.

The DJ Booth writer Hershal Pandya went through classic Hip-hop groups like Black Moon, Smif-N-Wessun, Showbiz and A.G., Organized Konfusion, and several others.

Upon listening, he noted that “Unfortunately, in spite of all the record’s crafty lyrics and deviations in flow, I couldn’t quite keep my mind from wandering. A few hours later, after listening to a couple of more albums from this era, I was finally able to pinpoint the problem: my attention kept drifting because so much of this music sounded the same.

He then notes that though not all the songs can be classified under boom bap, there is an underlying hue. He says, “I openly acknowledge that it’s broad, overly simplistic, and unconcerned with nuance. And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s mostly accurate.

“When I say this music sounds the same, I’m not speaking from a standpoint of thematic consistency or quality — in these regards, the similarities are not all that striking — I’m speaking strictly from a standpoint of instrumentation.

“With some notable exceptions, the majority of songs on these albums feature production that is virtually indistinguishable, marked by repetitive drum patterns, muted samples, and loud percussion that obscures much of the melody.”

Pandya then notes that those acts are very much interchangeable in boring similarities like mumble rap or trap music, “As frustrating as it may be to read a barely-informed millennial dismissively generalize years’ worth of musical output as “sounding the same,” we’re currently living in an era where it’s commonplace for people to make these sorts of generalizations all the time.

Notable critics and elder statesmen who often speak about mid-‘90s boom-bap being the pinnacle of rap achievement are now the same people who speak in sweeping terms about how “all trap music sounds the same.”

While noting the impressive roles of acts like Tha Dogg Pound and Three 6 Mafia from the standpoint of natural evolution and technological advancement which will normally aid sound experimentation, evolution and transformation, Pandya notes, “Of course, this is a bit of an unfair comparison because the production on Culture II ostensibly benefited from almost 25 years’ worth of innovation that musicians from the mid-‘90s simply did not have access to.

“From a technological perspective alone, there are many explanations for why it must have been harder for producers from this era to integrate more diverse sounds into their compositions

“This leads me to believe that the excessive concentration of repetitive boom bap music from this era wasn’t so much a byproduct of circumstance, but rather a series of deliberate creative choices. 

It’s not even a phenomenon that is particularly hard to track. As the boom bap sound gained traction, it produced a snowball effect, becoming the music that listeners wanted to hear and the music artists wanted to make.”

play The definition of Hiphop (Slideshare)

Music comes in eras, each era has a defining sound. Hip-hop was never going to be stagnant to drug rap, horrorcore, and beatboxing. It was always going to evolve. If anything, vintage Hip-hop has a tendency to bore these days because the music wasn’t meant to be standard; it is art and art evolves.

Hip-hop was always going to get here as sonic experimentation and natural evolution precipitates new discovery. Like boom bap in the 90s, mumble rap, as an offspring of trap and Atlanta street rap is a product of natural evolution.

They are not subordinate, they just document a different reality, soundtrack a different society and appeal to a different audience. In fact, mumble rap is a key reason why Hip-hop is the global number one genre of music.

 It is lighter, more appealing and addresses a vice — Trap life that even white kids sadly aspire to. Hip-hop of any age has always been centered around vices too.

Where ’90s Hip-hop addresses gang life, drug dealing, sex, violence, trap life, low-income inner-city struggles, mumble rap also address those things, albeit inaudibly. Misogyny is also inherent to both. Dissing mumble rap smirks of an ignorant, incoherent evaluative reasoning — Hip-hop should do better.

Mumble rap is as much Hip-hop as any subgenre of rap before it. Sounding like a 90s rapper might make you a better poet, but it doesn’t mean you make better music than a mumble rapper.

I would, however, end by noting that it’s funny how this hate also included trap music as an object some 30 months ago, but that has changed over the past one year. Why? Most rappers are now jumping on the previously maligned “overused” trap drums and trap beats with excitement, while the hate has now solely shifted to mumble rap. How convenient…

When the world realizes that modern heroes like Kendrick Lamar, Drake, J. Cole, and Wale have all done mumble rap in one way or another over the respective latest projects, maybe the hate will also inevitably thaw to usher in the stylistic use, like they are now jumping on trap drums while the hate has naturally diffused.

It is purely unfounded and thoughtless criticism.

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