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MC Solaar Cinquieme As (Fifth Ace)
review by Maurice Downes

If you could insult hip-hop for its current lack of imagination and passion, and believe me you could do so without question, then at the very least you must give hip-hop marks for its efficiency. It has managed to become a prominent style of music without suffering the immense growing pains that forced other music styles almost totally underground. It's done so from the humble street corners of working-class NYC neighborhoods without a great deal of noise only to generate sufficient noise years later. Then it spread to the four corners of the globe while most of its artists were still not nearly as rich as they were popular… then they became more so. All this at a tidy 30-years old and counting.
But even considering hip-hop's rapid globalization, there was a time when there was little reason to do anything but "Buy American." Foreign ears may have grown to love the new style of music, but they weren't too adept at producing it themselves. Hip-hop was confined to a strictly Yankee interpretation. Of course, over time this has changed drastically, and while American hip-hop has chosen to stay in neutral, countries where hip-hop was once merely an import are now changing its face. One of the strongest leaders in this revolution has been France, giving the world of hip-hop such artists as Les Nubiens, Alliance Ethnik, Boss the MC, and standard-bearer MC Solaar.

The Senegal-born rapper, who was introduced to American listeners with a duet on Guru's classic Jazzmatazz, now returns with his latest effort Cinquieme As or "Fifth Ace". For those not familiar with his music, he takes a sort of wordy approach to his rapping style. But lest you think he's just another wordsmith that relies on his mouth speed, MC Solaar trumps a great deal of current American rappers with songs that show a great deal of range in subject matter and tone. This may be a hard sell to an audience that overwhelmingly does not understand French, much like your embarrassed author, but just a quick listen will clue you into verses laden with pain, lust, regret, and anger. Again, the ability to show change emotion already places him head and shoulders above most emcees from the 50 states. Luckily for him, the album's backbeat and composition has enough strength to back him up being soulful when necessary and pounding on other occasions.

That's not to say that there aren't bumps in this road. The instrumentals are interesting for the most part, but occasionally poorly matched to his style. Sometimes they can even be slightly tedious and a bit overproduced. This is nothing that I can really extend to his emceeing which stays strong throughout and establishes him as an artist that can truly hold his own. Quite humorously, the low point of the album, the syrupy sweet and forgettable "Baby Love", comes not too far from the enjoyably bouncy "La La La, La". A funny contrast since they're both songs that have a lightness, but one fails for it. Still, considering that this is an album that features ominous string orchestras, Spanish guitars, and psychedelic sound bites, there could never be an accusation of lacking imagination.

Overall, Cinquieme As is a strong album from a dependably different artist, MC Solaar. A typical American listener might not know what to make of it, but wasn't that once the great thing about hip hop?

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