MGF Reviews Guilty Simpson – Ode to the Ghetto

Guilty Simpson – Ode to the Ghetto
Stones Throw Records (3/25/08)
Hip-hop / Rap

Whenever Stones Throw Records releases a new album, most of the hip-hop heads take notice, as it’s been one of the foremost underground imprints for years now. Emcee Byron “Guilty” Simpson has been collaborating with the imprint for a while, most notably on his work with the late J Dilla on Ruff Draft and on Jaylib’s Champion Sound (Dilla was partial to him as a rapper). Simpson (whose name isn’t, as many people, including myself, thought, a play on O.J.) put out a mixtape last year that got him some attention, and no doubt helped to bolster interest in this, his debut album. So, with everything considered, this album should be awesome, right?

Opening track, “American Dream”, produced by Madlib, contains one his trademark esoteric symphonic samples at the beginning—one which could very well have been from the cache of Bollywood-type samples found in Beat Conducta Vol. 3-4: In India. Guilty waxes poetic before we are treated to more tandoori goodness in the hook. The lyrics in “Robbery” are reminiscent of “Ante Up” (complete with the “Get ’em, get ’em, get ’em”, making it an official nod to M.O.P.), even managing to move nicely, though it’s not as kick-your-face-in crazy. Guilty’s deep-voiced, smooth flow can best be likened to Rasco of the Cali Agents.

When it comes to hip-hop albums, having Madlib as one of your main producers is usually a recipe for success. Usually. The aforementioned “American Dream” is a good one, while “She Won’t Stay at Home” crawls a bit, and “The Future” (with a cameo by Med, who sounds similar to Mr. Eon) is gold, with a nice science-fiction-inspired beat paired with Guilty’s smooth delivery on lines like, “I got a cousin that plays for the Utah Jazz (Ronnie Brewer)/ but I don’t have to run the two to shoot y’all ass”. “Pigs” contains a beat right from the aforementioned Beat Conducta Vol. 3-4, though unfortunately it’s not one of the stronger ones. It’s very stripped down and actually sounds kind of awkward with someone rhyming over it. “Yikes” has the trademark Madlib sound, and could have been taken from the Quasimoto catalogue, complete with the humorous repeating of “Yikes!” throughout. I gues they’re kind of similar, though, Guilty and Quasimoto, at least in their subject matter—a lot of rhyming about shenanigans and such (as in “Get Bitches”). So three out of five isn’t bad, per se, but Madlib didn’t bring it like I’d hoped.

“I Must Love You”, produced by Dilla, appears smack-dab in the middle of the set, and seeing as Guilty and Dilla both originally came from Detroit, it’s expected that they would’ve crossed paths somewhere in there. The beat is very much Dilla-esque in its in-and-out tempo and underlying jazz tone. It’s a good track, though it’s the only Dilla beat; when asked repeatedly why there was only one Dilla appearance on the album, Guilty writes on his MySpace page:

“i recorded quite a few tracks with Dilla when he was alive: 1. take notice (ruff draft), 2. baby (ruff draft), 3. i must love you (ode…..), 4. stress (unreleased), 5. make it fast (2k8 soundtrack), 6. clap ya hands (chrome children), 7.mans world (white label 12 inch) and quite a few cuts that have yet to be found since his passing that i would have LOVED to put on my album, but they’ve yet to be found… what can i do?

i didnt want to just take a bunch of instrumentals and record over beats that a lot of cats just snatched off of his beat cds. i wanted my shit to be fresh and new. a lot of the cuts i did with him when he was alive have already been heard by the masses. not to go into alot of detail, but its alot of legal tape to cut through in order to LEGALLY get those beats… something that is beyond my means at this point in my career. … with some of the beats me and Dilla recorded there were huge sample issues (mans world/james brown, stress/beatles); both were songs that i wanted on my record. i also wanted clap ya hands but with my record being moved back,it made that song old to alot of fans sorry!

… for all the fans that want to hear more GUILTY/DILLA collabs, just sit tight. even though its hard to get DILLAS beats its not impossible,i just need to get weight up 1st.”

Mr. Porter chips in some beats on three of the tracks, including “Kinda Live”, which is one of the strongest tracks on the album, and were it to be marketed to the masses, it has the potential to be huge, and that it has a bit of a Neptunes feel without getting obnoxious (and, of course, without the obligatory shameless Pharrell cameo). Emcees/producers Oh No and Black Milk (whose beats both sound, at times, eerily similar to those of Madlib’s) join in the fun as well to make this a true Stones Throw experience. “Footwork” (produced by the former) is pretty good, but the sound level on the beat seems to be a wee bit too loud, taking away from Guilty’s lines. Not sure if that was intended, but if it was I hope someone got fired over that. The latter appears as a producer and a rapper on “Run”, which is another middle finger extended to the sky in the direction of the cops and wack emcees, respectively.

Dilated Peoples producer DJ Babu makes an appearance on “Kill ’em”, on which Guilty manages to be laid-back and passionate at the same time. “Allmighty Dreadnaughtz” closes out the set, and features cameos by Super MC, Krizsteel and producer/emcee Konnie Ross. This is likely the Obligatory Posse Cut for Guilty to showcase his extended roster. Nothing wrong with that, especially since these guys can spit. The beat’s nothing special, but the track serves its purpose.

Overall, Ode to the Ghetto is a good album from a record label that has a history of releasing excellent material. Madlib wasn’t at the top of his game, here, and only a few of the beats were something special, though Guilty keeps most of the tracks entertaining with his rhymes. Yes, it’s better than almost all rap material currently coming out, but as a Stones Throw release, it doesn’t shine like it should and could have.


Tags: ,