Hip-hop is picking up as June draws toward the end, giving hope for the rest of the summer. Whirlwind wordsmith Jarren Benton returns after his fine sequel to Slow Motion from last year and Vince Staples with his full length sophomore, in not an extremely remarkable week but one that will move us along at any rate.
Atlanta backpacker Jarren Benton releases his third studio album less than a year after his classic-qualifying independent LP Slow Motion Vol. 2, a glowing highlight of 2016. The new collection, The Mink Coat Killa LP, too comes on the vicious emcee’s indie label Benton Enterprise, LLC, and has the marks, if not all the marks, of a solid, non-major label, self issue – some challenging subject matter and complex wordplay, but Benton frequently falls back on his standard barbarous attitudes and feels all the way through the bonus tracks.
Two reoccurring themes cause some concern. The brutality and money-and/or-gifts-for-sex topics pop up more than once though they maybe shouldn’t at all. When the verbal violence and cold lovelessness are in the forms of Wu-like kung fu sound bites via “The God Intro” or the coined “money over b*tches” idea in “Designer Belts” or even the paying for sexual favors as a relationship centerpiece in “Again,” then there’s obviously a dedication to that overly hard toughness that is ultimately deleterious in overcompensating for fear and vulnerability with too much hardcore aggression and stoicism.
Frankly, the album follows a trend that rap album fans are well familiar with by now. The savage, sometimes adolescent tough guy talk rules in the top three fourths of the project only to get to a few recycled messages of weight in the bottom fourth but even after that, two rough-’em-up bonus tracks revert to low level beastliness. Benton brings up Flint, for the infamous water crisis of course, in “$30k Mink” and elsewhere and presents the thought of “overthrowing the government that rules with an iron fist” in “Ill N*gga.” Those are fleeting moments in their respective songs however.
The conscious ending quarter is good but doesn’t last long and should have distributed its intelligence in earlier parts. Benton strolls down memory lane in “Passenger Side” to show love to hip-hop greats who inspired him, he rejects personality flaws in “F*ck Everybody,” and “Mental Issues” ends it with some decompressing and venting with prescription medication being one of those questionable targets. Some might say this section ends as fast as it comes on and really rappers have hit on this conceptual terrain in the past. It’s still relevant though.
For as much of a gifted emcee Jarren Benton is at this time, his Mink Coat Killa LP is a default to and over-reliance on backpack typicality with very little innovation if any. The former Funk Volume artist has shed even more original funk from his nature and kept the volume of rap-ruthlessness at his regular high setting. As a backpacker, Benton is still unique enough, with a recognizable voice and for the fact that he does put consciousness next to his destructo-rhymes, though he rarely juxtaposes, blends or mixes them, quartering them off into their own sections instead. Mink Coat Killa is thus satisfactory, just barely, but now, in the prewriting phase, Benton must be smarter and more conscious of how brutish and obnoxious he has a tendency of getting so that the fresh, smart, conscious side of him in his verses doesn’t go from endangered to extinct. (3 out of 5 stars)
Long Beacher and Def Jammer Vince Staples’ debut LP, Summertime ’06, got sparkling reviews across the board in 2015 and his sophomore, Big Fish Theory, is eerily and quickly getting the same, thanks to the mainstream press’s obeisance to the commercial mastermind behind B.F.T. Remember that the album comes from Def Jam and Def Jam pretty much takes strict, direct orders from its owner, the corporately structured Universal Music Group. Vince may squeeze out a few okay lines here and there but he’s largely and regrettably an unoriginal instrument set to reconvey a few common contrived rap sentiments on Big Fish.
There is talk of experimental production in the album and it is accurate talk yet the LP mainly features a dancy, bouncy sonic-likeness. The topics on the other hand leave more to be desired. Vince makes inequality not a character issue or economic issue but rather a color and race issue with the race-baiting of “Crabs in a Bucket,” rapping about battling whites and talking black oppression briefly there; then it’s money and aspirations in “Big Fish,” the confusticating life where Vince crashes a sports car and charges a premium for the d*ck in “Love Can Be…,” and then the expectable trials and tribulations of love in “745.”
At one point in the middle, in “Yeah Right,” which features Kendrick Lamar, the proverbial waters that our “big fish” swims get a bit deep, with Vince admitting his wariness of pretty girls, with heavy allegations against them, and the criteria that we judge other people’s success by there – well layered stuff for center-of-the-album material. Production-wise, Big Fish maintains its avant garde integrity to the end, but since this is your usual major-label release, the head-scratching oddball statements still pop up on occasion. It’s apparently cool to Vince and his crew to do the same thing again and again in “Samo,” one of his examples being to put his dudes through college, in business and with your mother as Staples so eloquently puts it, not really (*sarcasm alert*).
The rest unfolds nearly identically, with speech that might mean something but just sounds problematic. Vince Staples may drop the loaded line of “tell the one percent [and government] to suck a d*ck because we on now” in banger “Bagbak” but also thinks the next Bill Gates (his model for greatness?) could come from the ghetto of all places. In much the same way, there are notes of technical realism in “Rain Come Down” when Vince gabs on about “never needing a girl to love me” but it’s also just cold, heartless and un-engaging. The music has a good sum to offer but Vince and his casual, slightly dull spitting and his habit of making act-a-fool comments leave a Big Fish Theorythat would have been able to stick in the memory had it contained better messages and sharper vocal delivery. (2 out of 5 stars)