Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mel's Message Week, Day 5 - The Last Message

It took ten years to get from "The Message" and "Message II" to "The New Message," and we would have to wait another fifteen years for the next installment. That's right, I don't even know how many people realize this, but Melle (sorry, Mele) Mel's last single, "M-3" is actually a new "Message" record. Yup, the "M" stands for "Message." And he's labeled it part 3, which I guess means that he's decided "The New Message" didn't count. Sort of like when Halloween part 7 (a.k.a. H20) came out, and they made it a direct sequel to Halloween part 2, and we were just supposed to pretend parts 3-6 didn't happen, so Jamie Lee Curtis's character never had a daughter and there was no crazy cult. You've got "The Message," "Message II (Survival)" and now "M-3." Anything else isn't canon, so forget about it.

"M-3" dropped on the 25th anniversary of "The Message," the first and only single off of Mel's most recent album, Muscles. The famous hook from the original and "New Message," has been shorted from the famous, "don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge..." to just the simple and declarative, "don't!" I'm not sure if abbreviating it like the title is meant to disguise the fact that this is the new "Message" or not, but it all ties together when Mel kicks the final verse, which is entirely "don't" themed:

"Don't act like you know so much;
You ain't cute enough to prostitute - don't try to ho so much.
Don't write a rhyme like the rest of your boys
'Cause them niggas is on stage making a bunch of goddamn noise.
Don't be so wild and loose; don't fall for the half truths,
'Cause it might be child abuse.
Pro-black ball player, yo man, don't marry a white woman,
Go and give your sister a chance.
Don't be afraid of the word 'nigga,'
Be a strong, rich, proud, healthy, well-educated nigga."

The rest of the song's a little more straight-forward, what you'd expect from a "Message" rap:

"Broken dreams over the triple beam,
Go for the cream, niggas sellin' dope to the fiends
Young juvenile killers in jeans and white tees
Sayin' 'freeze!' Nobody can hear you scream.
Coulda swore that my broad was a normal chick,
Rented a video; the ho was in a porno flick."

Now I don't know, but that sounds like kind of an unfair double-standard to me. I mean, if he's so against porn, what's he doing renting them? I guess it's okay for the goose, but not the gander, huh?

But, seriously, it's interesting. He's switched the flow up from previous messages, where he's now kicking more, faster rhymes {"dreams, beam, cream, fiends, jeans") packed into the lines - it's an energetic, hyper flow, more like Kool G Rap (except with mostly just single syllable rhymes) than the kind of stuff he made history with. I wouldn't say it's an improvement, but it's certainly an acceptable change that works, though I could see some people being disappointed because they wanted to hear a "Message" that sounded more like the original. This one certainly doesn't.

But on the other hand, this lacks the power and imagery of the original. Some of that is definitely in the writing - he just doesn't say anything here that hits you as hard. In fact, I can't even really tell what on Earth he's talking about sometimes (what the Hell are the half-truths that "might be child abuse" in the portion quoted above, for example?) And the style change, which puts more of an emphasis on "clever" than "earnest" probably plays a hand as well. But the biggest point this one catches flack on is surely the production.

Of course, the previous "Message"s have always had the benefit of great, live musicians supporting the rhymes - even "The New Message." Here you've got a track produced by Joey Mekkah (a new alias of Romeo JD from The Boogie Boys), which just isn't very good. Part of the problem is that the music, along with Mel's different flow, makes it seem like they're chasing after "what the kids are doing these days." I'm pretty sure they listened to some new, corny rap songs, said, "this sucks" and then, "we gotta make a track like that to be relevant." I mean, it's not terrible; but it sounds like a leftover from a lame Hot 97 freestyle.

The 12" has our backs here, somewhat, with an exclusive remix by Kamanchi Sly. If you don't know, he's a member of Hijack, the British group that was a member of The Rhyme Syndicate (Mel was a member of the Syndicate, too, remember). It sounds a little more hip-hop, and the bass is deeper - it's a definitely improvement. Still, some of the musical elements sound a little too much like your typical, staccato "computer-made bloops and bleeps" of modern hip-hop production (the whole Muscles project is obviously crippled by not being able to afford to sample), and the hook sounds worse over this new track - they should've replaced it with something else. But, overall it's still an upgrade, and you can really appreciate Mel's MCing better on this mix.

"M-3" also comes backed with another album track, "Hip Hop 101." It's not a great song, but it's a fun homage to old school classics. He spits famous lines from hip-hop's most famous tracks over a classic breakbeat, and leaves the audience to finish the refrains in a shout-and-call kinda thing. It's like those medley records Doug E. Fresh put out around 2000, although he does spit a new, original verse towards the end. It's okay.

Ultimately, it's a disappointment. Reactions online (here, read some) seem to vary from "utter shit" to "the legend is back - all praise!" But I don't think anyone will say that this stands up to his previous outings. Mel proves he still has potential as an MC, and I appreciate the effort here; but this project ain't it. Not only do I naturally prefer the records from '82, but if I want to listen to a third, honestly, I'll play "The New Message." Just like when Halloween 7 came out, they arrogantly dismissed the earlier entries because of their flaws, and declared "we're making the only real, important sequel!" But fans prefer parts 4 and 5. ;)


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  2. Hey man, great write up for The Message week! Nicely done!
    Thought I'd drop a bit of insight (as much as it is) on M-3.
    Faisal Ahmed was a fella who worked in Mel's camp back when he dropped M-3. I hooked up with him online and he sent me an acapella of the track (which I may still have somewhere) to remix (long story), which I duly did and sent back. Apparently they liked it and they were going to release a remix EP that compiled four of the best remixes on there (I was told that mine was one).
    Unfortunately, that didn't happen, due to two things:
    A) Mel was embarking on a wrestling career and starting to make moves with WWE, I believe - whether this came to anything, I don't know.
    B) My version used a sample of the original Message, which apparently couldn't be done due to rights issues, which would also explain the title "M-3" instead of "Message 3", and the pared down "Don't" chorus, rather than the "Don't push me" chorus that you might have expected.

    As a matter of interest, here's my remix. :)


  3. Read through your Message week for the third time! This is one of my favourite things you've done, Werner. Really fantastic work. Hope to see more "weeks" in the future!