By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
ACEYALONE Accepted Eclectic(Project Blowed)
EVE Scorpion (Ruff Ryders)
On paper, Aceyalone and Eve don’t have much in common except that both their names begin and end in vowels. One is a lord of hip-hop’s underground, the other a queen of commercial rap’s kingdom, but break past the borders erected by their core audiences and you’ll find their shared source of talent: sheer charisma. Certainly, both have gotten a big boost from their respective affiliations — Eve with the Ruff Ryders, Aceyalone with the Freestyle Fellowship — but individually, each oozes personality from every pore. In contrast to the merely popular, these are icons who shape hip-hop by the sheer force of their magnetism.
With Acey, he’s the foremost rappers’ rapper, a tireless wordsmith armed with a phalanx of flows. Rather than just chatter on for the sake of style, though, he combines the round-the-way wisdom that your granddad passes down with the youthful exuberance of a 5-year-old nephew. One moment he’s reflecting Zen-like on his life’s blessings in “I Can’t Complain,” the next he’s rattling off on the lesser competitors for “Rappers, Rappers, Rappers,” and the next he’s goofing on the drug-disabled with “Master Your High.” No matter what face he’s wearing, Acey remains confident and compelling — as he boasts on “Microphones,” “This microphone/is my magic wand/to make all of y’all respond.” After two ambitious but uneven albums, All Balls Don’t Bounce and Book of Human Language, Acey finally hits his stride by keeping things simple — minimalist tracks by Fat Jack, Evidence and others anchor each of the 16 songs, while Acey’s verbosity launches him into the stratosphere. It’s an exhilarating, delirious ride to the top with him.
Meanwhile, Eve is single-handedly proving why it makes no sense to compare female rappers only with one another. It’s not just that her wit, vigor and versatility challenge Lauryn Hill, but Jay Z too. Her last album, Ruff Ryders’ First Lady, proved that she could hold her own next to peers like DMX, but Scorpion propels her into pop stardom’s embrace, smartly blending party anthems with thug themes. Like Acey, Eve’s a rapper for all seasons, coming tenacious on “Gangsta Bitches,” slyly playful on “Let Me Blow Your Mind,” and turning a generic sex song, “You Ain’t Gettin’ None,” into a surprisingly mature yet titillating tale of lust and desire. Even her turn at singing (all but a cliché among female MCs) is a revelation, as her rendition of Bob Marley’s “No, No, No” — featuring Marley’s sons Damien and Steve — milks every ounce of sensual soulfulness from the original without bastardizing it. It’s too bad that Eve blocks her own light by inviting on so many cameo guests. Here’s one artist who doesn’t need the help, though Dr. Dre’s musical contributions on “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” and “That’s What It Is” are welcome additions alongside Swizz Beatz’s shimmering studio tracks.
Realistically, Aceyalone and Eve probably won’t drag backpackers and jiggy jockers out of their rigid camps to embrace each other’s heroes. But if hip-hop is desperate to find genuine personalities among the cookie-cut clones, the smarter fans will double-dip into both albums, two of the best so far in this new year. (Oliver Wang)
SPOON Girls Can Tell (Merge)
Act 1: Pixies-derived Austinites release two catchy but overpraised records on mid-’90s Matador, then flying high on Pavement and Liz Phair’s clout. Act 2: Band signs to Vapor and channels everything into 1998’s A Series of Sneaks, a fractured document of the three weeks when “lo-fi” had cachet. Act 3: Unloaded by its label immediately after that disc’s release, band whittles itself down to songwriter Britt Daniels and drummer Jim Eno, tests the waters with a couple of 7-inches, and finds itself on Chapel Hill’s Merge Records, which is becoming to indie-rock survivors (Seaweed, Versus) what The Love Boat was to MGM contract players.
Which brings us to Girls Can Tell, Spoon’s fourth full-length overall. (“Fourth and best,” sure, though the competition isn’t that fierce.) Like the title’s Knack tribute, Daniels’ songs plumb the collective pop-unconscious for familiar rhythms and textures while stopping just short of open theft, from the Cars-ish seethe of “Everything Hits at Once” to “Take a Walk,” in which the Yardbirds discover delay pedals — hardly a major innovation, but a nice touch of alternate (not “alternative”) rock history. Perverse as it may seem, this album is more tightly arranged and crisply recorded than anything the group managed on a major label; in fact, it’s a small masterpiece of home production, with Eno’s economical drumming framing stabs of rhythm guitar and precisely placed daubs of vibes and viola.
A few standout tracks halfway through carry the day, along with Daniels’ unaffected rasp. “Lines in the Suit” may or may not be about unemployment (“The human resource clerk/has two cigarettes and back to work”), but its minor-key harmonies render lyrical content moot. “The Fitted Shirt” is even better, sketching the narrator’s nostalgia, sartorial (“I still got Dad’s clothes”) and otherwise (“I long for the days they used to say ‘ma’am’ and ‘yes, sir’”) to the tune of first-Camaro metal and, brilliantly, harpsichord. It’s great, but also worrisome: Along with the album’s length (under 40 minutes, just like the classics) and cover image (spinning vinyl), this song may reveal more than Daniels intended about the essential conservatism lurking behind his historical and formal pop-mastery. (Franklin Bruno)NECRO I Need Drugs (Psycho+Logical)As the self-styled pioneer of death rap, Crooklyn-based Necro is on a mission to outshock all the Ghetto Boys and Luke Skywalkers that came before him. On his debut, I Need Drugs, he relates his sexual conquests (“Hoe Blow,” “Fuck You to the Track,” “Get on Your Knees”), eightball-fiending (“I Need Drugs”), flosser hatred (“I’m Sick of You”), even Christ bashing (“WNYU 89.1 Xmas Freestyle 12/23/99”). It’s a riot of four-letter words, body fluids, ill will and everything short of a snuff track. But Necro’s metrical dexterity, catchy vocabulary and arcing narratives are potent for that very reason. Take the conceit of “STD” (gonorrhea as paramour), which commences all sappy, then 180s into a slasher-flick revenge tale. A good MC can alter cadences, but not many can turn the whole mood upside down in a single cut.