Why do I always have to be the party pooper?!
After all, there are so few Jewish rappers in the business; it’s difficult for me to give a negative review to Ephrhyme’s (pronounced E-prime) latest solo album, Dopestylevsky, K Records‘ first hip-hop album in over a decade.
Yet, here I sit, flummoxed, trying to find a nice way of writing that, well, the Olympia, WA-bred MC comes across less like Matisyahu (the latter of which may be as close to catching lightning in a bottle as we’ll ever get, when it comes to Jewish rappers), and more like “Weird Al” Yankovic doing his infamous—and hilarious—“Amish Paradise.”
I’m sorry, and this might sound somewhat racist, but barring the likes of Eminem and Matisyahu, most white people just can’t pull off a decent patois. It’s that simple. Ephryme is just one of those people who can’t, try as he might. He just sounds silly and loses all credibility. Throughout most of the album, his voice just made me chuckle and picture Mr. “UHF,” with his wispy faux beard and modest Amish attire.
The album’s lyrics are sound, some pitch-perfect, and that’s what makes this such a disappointment.
Some people just weren’t meant to rap.
It’s such a thin line, the difference between performing a rap song versus singing a song.
Look at Bob Dylan: The guy has never been able to sing a song to save his life. In fact, his voice sounds worse than ever; like a lizard that took a swig of Johnny Walker and was then, subsequently, run over by a Dodge Charger. The sounds he now calls “singing” sounds more like a thick, tobacco-tarred dirge.
The point being, though, is that in Dylan’s case (at least, in his prime), he knew his strengths. He also injected his songs with enough, well, Dylan (read: soul…I think), that the passion regularly overpowered the weaknesses of his off-key vocals.
Plus, the dude had enough charisma to spare. And that can go a long way.
Whereas, with a rap song—especially if you’re a white Jew!—either you got it…or ya don’t…and no amount of wizardly wordplay can save your lillie-white ass. Sorry. As Bruce Hornsby once sang, that’s just the way it is. Some things will never change.
Now, this is not to say that there aren’t some decent diamonds in the rough on Dopestylevsky. In fact, the second half of the disc, while not exactly great, has some pretty decent tracks.
There’s just one problem: For the most part, Ephrhyme is hardly, if at all, heard on these, which goes to show that maybe the guy can lay down a track better than he can get one out. Take track 6, “Smoke Break,” for instance. It’s all synthesized sound and hard-charging fury—and it’s also probably the album’s biggest highlight. One would hope that it’s merely coincidence that it’s purely instrumental, with no “Weird Al” voice to be heard, but that might be reaching.
Track 8, “Notes from the Underground,” isn’t so bad either. Of course, once again, the song, featuring Xperience and Glimpse, two artists who seem to know their way around a rap song better than MC “Dopestylevsky” himself. The song is fast-flowing, gritty, and, yes, credible. Hmmm…sounds like rap to me!
Finally, the following track, “Lose Your Cool,” features A.K.A., and it features some really beautiful crystalline, clubby, synth waves and vocals. It’s nothing earth-shaking, but it’s easy on the ears.
That is, until our favorite “Weird Al” wannabe starts vocalizing.
Damn, this rapper just ain’t kosher! He’s just (a) dope!
Oy vey, yo!
I would feel more confident in this reviewer’s opinion if he hadn’t started with “there are so few Jewish rappers in the business.” Really? I can name dozens. Mr. Senal mentions Matisyahu and Eminem but dusts off Weird Al and Bob Dylan for the bulk of his comparisions, which makes me think he’s perhaps not the best choice for a contemporary hip hop reviewer.
Take heart, Mr. Senal- Bruce Hornsby has a new album coming out this year.
This review is less critical but more credible because the reviewer seems familiar with 21st century hip hop. Can’t wait to hear this album for myself.
Hey, Amanda! I’m glad that you’ve proven me wrong about they’re not being enough Jewish rappers in the business! It’s great to know that, out of 6.9 billion people on this planet, you can name “dozens!”
As far as “dusting off ‘Weird Al’ and Bob Dylan,” for the bulk of my comparisons, well, you’re completely wrong. There IS no comparison. To even put Ephryme in the same sentence as Dylan was merely a kindness. My reason for using their names was to illustrate that a.) Ephryme sounds like “Weird Al”, if the latter were, in fact, a rapper (which he’s not and, now that I’ve heard Ephryme, it’s probably a good thing) and b.) Ephryme, like Dylan, can write a great song, but can’t sing (or rap) to save his life; UNLIKE Dylan, however, Ephryme lacks the charisma, charm and pathos; which leaves Ephryme lacking as a performer.
As I said, he should stick to his strengths, which I did mention, and write his own stuff for other (read: more talented, charismatic artists–yes, I am referring to Matisyahu, among others) to perform.
As for the second comment you posted, well, to each his/her own. I went ahead and read what the other critic had to say:
“I think hip hop fans need this. I think, maybe, we all need this.”
Oh, please! I need “Dopestylevsky” the same way that I need someone to take a pencil and give it a good shove into my ear canal. Listen, er, read: I’m just one music critic. And for the record, I think You SHOULD listen (not necessarily buy, mind you) to the album, if only to shape your own opinion. I’m just a designated listener, Amanda; or, to phrase it another way: I slog through crap like Ephryme’s latest so you, dear Amanda, don’t have to.
I could name a handful of Minnesota-based Jewish rappers.
I’d gladly take Bruce Hornsby’s new CD. But what’s that got to do with anything…other than great singing, songwriting, and musicianship?
There’s no reason to get up in arms over someone’s opinion. I had someone get upset because, IMHO, the best rapper in the game right now is a (gasp) Muslim.
ML: Who’s the Muslim guy who’s the best in the game? I’ll check it out.
Mr. Senal: You are right; those are all poor comparisons, including Matisyahu. Because they aren’t rappers, including Matisyahu. I felt your review was putting a new artist in a hackneyed context that told me more about your perspective than the work reviewed. I will certainly check out the album for myself- I like what I’ve heard so far. Thank you for your response!
Now, wait a minute, Amanda. You’re telling me that Matisyahu isn’t a rapper? Does he not rap in ANY of his songs? I think many fans, including myself, would beg to differ. He may not rap all the time, but the man does, indeed, rap. He also sings, too. Eminem sings, too, every so often. I guess he isn’t a rapper, either.
Once again, I didn’t say that “Weird Al” was a rapper. I was merely stating that Ephryme SOUNDS like “Weird Al” trying to do rap. As for my perspective on Jewish rap/hip-hop, I suppose I won’t earn any points for being a huge fan of Jewish hip-hop sensation, Socalled.
I guess I’m just doomed to be hip to be square. My hopes and dreams of being a connoisseur of the genre, like yourself, have been shattered. Say, by the way, since you seem to know so much about Bruce Hornsby, as well as when his next album comes out, I’ll bet you can tell me all about that last Huey Lewis reference!
Can’t wait to hear about it!
Amanda Black: Brother Ali. I recommend starting with The Undisputed Truth.
To Hal and Amanda; I wouldn’t consider Matis a rapper. He is much more effective (IMHO) as a singer and I think he’s at his best when he’s not rapping.
In 2010, Krs-One produced (and rhymed with) a Jewish rapper named Greenie… Greenie sounds like one of the best rappers of the 80s–yet came out in 2010– a bit weird–but has dope lyrics–and a better– albeit 80s sound (hence, Krs-One)– Greenie is unique, emotional– and reminds me of Eminem crossed w/ Fresh Prince-but w/ unique style and messages– The Cd is called “It’s all good”