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November 21, 2007
Working on the theme of head-to-head matchups spawned by this summer's Kanye West vs. 50 Cent "Decision 2007" beef and continued with a comparison of pianists in PJ Harvey vs. Nellie McKay, lets take a look at how a lesser-known indie act squares with one of hip-hop's heaviest hitters.





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Lifesavas
Gutterfly: Original Sndtrk
Quannum
Rating: 7.1/10 ?
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Ghostface Killah
The Big Dough Rehab
Def Jam
Rating: 7.9/10 ?
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Aaron McGruder time: why buy the fake blaxploitation album when the real thing's all over the place? I mean, what is this exploiting, really? Gutterfly is supposedly modeled as a classic blaxploitation B-flick written by three wiseguys out of the genre's time, but it's tongue-in-cheek, so it's all in good fun, right? These nice boys clean up their toy guns and put them away before bed, it surely takes out the blaxploitation appeal totally to know they're in control of their stardom, to know they're fetching their own money, no pie-eyed white director's to count atop his throne of coke.

There's the funk appeal, but there's nothing nasty, stanky or smoldering about it. Just fleeting flutes and mellowed vibes and the occasional orchestral stab to remind you you're listening to, er, an "Original Soundtrack." To nail the vibe, the L-crew's most talented rapper, Vursatyl, went to the movies and now parses atmosphere where he once demanded concreteness. His most felt moment comes from a scene where gets arrested in front of his kids, but his storytelling suffers mostly from the "telling" aspect and he comes off a bit like a neutered Mr. Lif, desperately trying to draw our attention to the world he's created but can't quite dominate. He didn't have this problem on his group's first album, Spirit in Stone, the greatest De la Soul rip in positive-rhyme history, but the four-year wait(!) smoked his brains out in the making. And like I complained rather heartlessly earlier, not much gets exploited. If someone got murdered in the course of an hour, it was silenced by the spare, hypnotic burn of "The Warning" or the cool detach of "Double Up." A concept album subsumed by its beats? Believe it, even George Clinton appears for groove cred. These guys were better off bonking bumbles in the Lyricist Lounge.

Just last week, Ghostface Killah, the world's most gifted rapper, put out a record with the same intentions, even though it's a far sillier conceit: he's got a decade on these chuckleheads, one spent in recognizable stardom, and he won't even admit that his record's the real fantasyland. Are we really to think he wiped someone's vitals off his clothes after a shopping cart-by capping this year? To his credit, this reviewer prefers punchlines and hard-gripping narratives to bullshit street proof and I don't need to know the details of anything other than what Ghost writes on his pad. Fact is, The Big Dough Rehab is his third straight album in three years to just freeze his moment: nothing but inventive impressions ("centipede stab wound" was a favorite) and an unapologetic thrill towards blood and money. First came Fishscale, the best record of last year, then More Fish leftovers even worthier than this official release, albeit less introspective ones that added up to an impossibly solid crew record with his Theodore Unit mates, including his own son, Sun God. Rehab has every right to coast off this streak-exploit it, if you will-for an overload of same. Lots of sex (not only in the wicked clubber "We Celebrate," but also walking in on Method Man and an "asthmatic"), lots of blood (that poor grocery shopper), and threats all over (calm down, fellow "Barrel Brother" Beanie Sigel).

What the record lacks is canon-worthy tunes. At times, Ghost rhymes so fiercely, he forgets there's even a song. He trudges right over the whole track he's sampling, not even stopping to loop, can't be bothered for a hook, just track after track of can't-stop-won't-stop. He's not looking back even as 40 approaches; he's almost like Leonard from Memento, erasing realities one at a time to set up a new thrill now that life's shot its wad. It's kind of admirable, and it's kind of sad. It could become his fatal flaw as a record maker; the lyrics carry these half-conceived tunes pretty much wholesale. If he put the care and depth Lifesavas invested into their deep, classy background, he might've come up with something truly scary. But as 2007 has it, here are two sensational records by ambitious talents that can only comport to exploit themselves so far.

SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/lifesavas
SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/ghostface

--
Dan Weiss
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.

See other articles by Dan Weiss.

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