Sunday, June 10, 2012

June 10: Mac Lethal, "Calm Down Baby"

Artist: Mac Lethal
Song: Calm Down Baby
Album: 11:11
Label: Rhymesayers

Though there have been many changes for a wide range of reasons over the past fifteen years in music, there is no question that one of the most obvious and disappointing has come in the clear downturn in the overall quality of hip-hop music.  As the 1990’s gave way to the 2000’s, much in the way that pop music began moving far away from quality in place of “marketability,” an overwhelming majority of hip-hop music became rather predictable in form and content, standing in stark contrast to the values upon which the style was built.  Whether it was the unavoidable presence of bass levels pushed so high that it was almost unlistenable, or simply the seemingly endless parade of copycat emcees that could rhyme about nothing beyond “women, drugs, and money;” the genre in general was a rather dismal place in terms of exiting or inspirational music.  Thankfully, there were a handful of record labels that then made it their mission to spot and support the underground emcees that had their own unique style, thriving on their individuality, and easily standing amongst the finest in this category is Kansas City native David Sheldon, better known as Mac Lethal.  For well over a decade, the emcee has been releasing mix-tapes and full lengths, as well as being featured in a number emcee battles where he quickly proved his exceptional talents.  While it is difficult to find a subpar recording from Mac Lethal, it is his 2007 release, 11:11 that stands as his most complete effort, and one can quickly learn just why he remains so highly respected on his brilliant track, “Calm Down Baby.”

One of the most exceptional aspects of the entire 11:11 record is the wide variety in sounds and beats over which Mac Lethal rhymes, and yet in many ways, the backing track on “Calm Down Baby” is the most traditional on the album.  The beat knocks perfectly, almost instantly pulling the listener into the head-bobbing pace; but at the same time, it is the slight stutter-step that gives the song a bit more diversity and bounce than one might expect.  The smooth keyboard notes that sit behind the entirety of the song allow for there to be an excellent sense of musicality, as well as giving the track sonic depth, and it is the combination of these sounds that again proves that one need not drive the bass levels through the roof to create a magnificent hip-hop beat.  It is the way that “Calm Down Baby” seems to almost sway a bit which becomes more and more intriguing as the song continues, and the fact that there is a discernable “bridge” section to the song reinforces the fact that there needs to be a “music” within hip-hop music.  This differentiation in the pace and flow of the song also helps to prevent the track from becoming even remotely mundane, and it is the fact that while these differences are present, there is never a sense that it is “over-done” or over-produced.  Such phenomenal balance In terms of both the actual sounds, as well as the mood are a rare occurrence from any point in hip-hop history, and this is all the more reason the track stands out from others.

However, as intriguing as the music on “Calm Down Baby” might be, there is no arguing that it is the devastatingly brilliant lyrical work and delivery of Mac Lethal that remains the focus throughout the entire track.  From the very first moments of the song, he throws down the gauntlet, and it feels as if he just rears back and then lets loose on one of the most focused and humorously penned rants ever captured on tape.  Whether he is providing commentary on the current state of music and culture or turning the pen onto himself, there is never a moment that is anything less than completely captivating.  It is the smooth, natural flow Mac Lethal brings to every moment that proves just how talented an emcee he truly is, and when one compares his rhythm and the ease with which he delivers the lines, most other rappers are quickly placed into a very pale comparison.  Yet it is the powerful, completely engaging way that he mixes together his various themes that makes the song exciting in a completely unique way, and many of his rhymes one can see as Mac Lethal simply saying out loud what many silently think.  Though some might be put off by his comments on the band Tool, his odd story of young love, or his views on current relationships, the fact remains that in almost every case, he is deadly accurate, and you can’t help but grin when he drops the line, “…the world is gray and blue but what skates me through, is knowing that I have a better music taste than you…”

Strangely enough, the version of 11:11 that was released in 2007 bas very little resemblance to the original incarnation of the album.  During the time between the initial recordings, and the actual release, Mac Lethal went through a number of rather traumatic personal experiences, and in the end, he felt that the record was a bit too dark and negative.  With this in mind, he recorded completely new tracks, and most will argue that the final product stands as one of the finest and most uniquely enjoyable hip-hop records of the past decade.  While in recent months, Mac Lethal has found massive amounts of success with a series of raps on YouTube, it is those who dig further into his recorded catalog that are rewarded with the truly exceptional examples of his talents.  In many ways, the rhyming style of Mac Lethal is the epitome of an emcee that is happy to simply be themselves, never feeling it necessary to alter their sound or pattern to sound more like “what’s popular.”  It is this artistic integrity and focus in every aspect of his music that results in a far stronger final product, and also enables the entire album to stand up far better as the years pass.  One can find a handful of other emcees that have recorded tracks where they seem to be letting loose on aspects of society that they find bothersome, but once one experiences the focused, yet smooth sound of Mac Lethal’s brilliant 2007 track, “Calm Down Baby,” there is no arguing the place of both the song as well as the emcee amongst the finest of their generation.

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