Cinquieme As (Fifth Ace)
review by Maurice Downes
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?