To the 5 Burroughs
Here are two artists on contrasting ends of the creative heart: Jean Grae, all bluster and flat-footed topical gravity; and the Beastie Boys, whose moniker you might have seen before, as Paul’s Boutique established them as the Paul Tillich act of the late twentieth century (i.e. “Why I am not a rapper, but a superstar”).
Just as dead men tell no tales, neither do sludgy production values, homonymic vocabulary and syntax lighten the load of any listener courageous enough to broach the nihilistic confines of Jean Grae’s latest effort, This Week. A logical continuance of that title might be … At the Watts Riots, because her touted flow’s chief concern is garroting those tuning in with tales of — Max Roach on the drum roll — enemies, lost love and the ubiquitous “haters.”
Curiously enough, such an emcee draws notice because of her handle’s similarity to that of Jean Grey, the character in the Marvel X-Men series of comic books; it’s as if Ms. Grae changed both the spelling of her name and her ambitions prior to the release of This Week to reflect her newfound reliance on a plethora of the hip-hop domain’s shopworn clichÃ©s such as “flossing,” tiresome skits and a “Thank You” list more drawn-out than this review. It’s such a shame that endless confusion over the mitigation of the line between loquacious and ponderous. Just as she is never loath to drop an “F” bomb, so does Jean Grae’s album earn that grade.
First Rick Rubin said “Fight for your right,” then America had the Beastie Boys.
With curriculum vitae that flaunt generational ciphers and ever-more-complex forms of conscience, the three ex-mooks from the Big Apple are responsible for several epochal titles: The aforementioned Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head and Ill Communication. Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA’s instrumental and onomatopoeic prowess has addressed fraternities, Spike Jonze (who directed their ceaselessly hilarious “Sabotage” video), and the Tibetan conflict in equal measure.
Similar to how Gang Starr cannot spell its own stage name, so do the Beasties have a lock on the “accomplished” tag. No matter how Jam Master Jay spun his wax back in the day, three middle-class Jewish upstarts whom he influenced have delivered a love note to the City that Never Sleeps that he and Run DMC could appreciate: To the 5 Boroughs.
Twelve parboiled valentines in miniature would never be apparent components of a Beastie Boys album, but “Ch-Check It Out” sets the tone to that of aural epinephrine. Stated simply, Boroughs is the group’s Magical Mystery Tour: A compendium of what makes them great. If this is the swan song for Mike Diamond and the two Adams, it is devoid of gray feathers or Grae-ish miscues.
Contact Adrian Dowe at firstname.lastname@example.org