Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Lyrical One

Papoose gets a lot of shit on the internet. Mostly because he tries to walk that fine line between backpacker and thugged out gangster, resulting in a lot of tough talk and attention-getting punchlines which are sometimes clever ("I serve my beef with shells like a fuckin' taco"), sometimes silly ("set fire to y'all ass like heated car seats") and sometimes.... just trying too hard ("If Kay give me the nine, then I'ma go squeeze off. That means I had K9 like a police dog").* ...Also because he gets in the news for doing stupid shit like this. Through it all, though, he maintains a consistent fanbase. After all, he has a mean flow if you don't scrutinize his lines too hard, and he can probably out rap most of his critics.

Plus, a lot of us heads still have this memory of the young, lyrical cat who made his debut on Kool G. Rap's underrated Roots of Evil album (to clear things up; there's no relation to the west coast Papoose who was down with Chunk years earlier). Unlike the 5 Family Click, who you knew G Rap put on only because he married into the family; Papoose and Jinx da Juvy were these two hardcore but lyrical younger cats who G Rap was bringing out like the next generation. Not that he was ever in any danger of them taking the crown, but they at least earned the right to sit by the throne. And it's that tiny place in history I go back to every time I revisit the only Papoose record I own, his debut.

"Thug Connection" dropped on Select Records in 1999 (this was right around the end of Select, when they signed one last small circle of underground MCs). At the time, he was going by the longer name, Papoose the Lyrical One, sort of like how AZ went by AZ the Visualiza on his first single. Maybe sharing that connection is what convinced AZ to appear on this track. Not really, I'm sure it was the fact that he and G Rap were working a lot together around that time, and he was appearing because he was also on this. So, you've got a hardcore, lyric flexing showcase track featuring Kool G Rap, AZ and produced by DR Period (for some reason, under the alias The Lab Kats)? Hell, even if Papoose was complete garbage, I'd own this record. But this is 90's Papoose; when he was a seriously respected MC, so this was a crate essential.

One gimmick came dangerously close to ruining the whole outing, though. And no, it's nothing corny Papoose says on the mic (in fact, he doesn't spit any bad punchlines and manages to show and prove here). The instrumental is a synth-heavy reworking of the theme song to that crazy 80's show, The A-Team. But you know what? It make be a little bit cheesy, but works. It's high energy, it hits pretty hard (despite being all synthy... a testament to whoever composed the original theme song), and it feels like an anthem - perfect for three MCs spitting with the specific intent to impress. And the cuts definitely help.

Considering Papoose's album never came out on Select (and, in fact, while he's still an active musician putting out music; he's yet to drop a debut album), it's great to these tracks on vinyl, and not just tucked away on a crappy mix-tape blended into other shit. You get Clean, TV Track (instrumental with ad-libs) and most importantly the untampered with Dirty Version.

Then, flip it over, and you've got Main and TV Tracks of "Alphabetical Slaughter," also produced by DR, er... The Lab Kats. This one doesn't hold up so well for me, but it seems to be generally considered his masterpiece amongst his fans. It's reasonably clever; he raps his way through the alphabet, using words that start with A for a few lines, then B, and so on... Naturally, he skimps on letters like Q, X, Y and Z. His flow is nice, but when you look past the gimmick, the lyrics are empty, plus we've all seen this alphabet schtick done several times before, and it's nowhere near as smart as "Vowel Movement," or even as catchy as KMC Kru's "Alphabet Rhyme." The beat just feels like a heavily watered down version of "Broken Language" ... those Nexx Level cats tried to recapture that lightning in a bottle a bunch of times, but they should have just let it go. Still, though, it's not bad - Papoose's flow saves it. But I'd rather just lift the needle up and restart the A-side again than flip this over to the B-side.

So, I don't know if I'd go so far as to fuck with his other records, or his seemingly never-ending saga of mixtapes; but I definitely recommend going back and giving this one a listen. It's a fun one.

*I just grabbed all those lines from his "Otis" remix.

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