At his age and at this stage in his career, you’d think that rapper Gift of Gab wouldn’t be struggling so much with his identity, but his newest solo album, The Next Logical Progression, is evidence of a serious identity crisis. Is he the old-school conscious rapper of his first solo album 4th Dimensional Rocket Ships Going Up; a tough, wizened rap elder with no patience for the game; or a wannabe new-age luminary torn between the street and the yoga studio? Really, he’s all of these at once, and these conflicting personalities don’t mix well. He’s still got the talent and the jams — “Effed Up” is a pretty glorious romp through his old, self-deprecating swagger — but much of the material seems seriously out of touch, maybe even a bit flaky.
On the song “Rise,” Gab’s guest vocalist raps, “Can I study Rumi and still quote Too $hort?” The answer is no, you can’t. Maybe rappers with harder edges and hungrier bellies could pull off an interesting juxtaposition like this, but not on this album. It reminds me of Guy Ritchie’s utterly ridiculous 2005 film Revolver, in which he tries to blend his signature British gangster style with the new age musings of Deepak Chopra. Integrating crazy, disparate influences like this is a sign of “going soft,” and it doesn’t work, neither for Ritchie nor for Gab. At its worst, it can become unbearable; witness the final scene of Revolver, in which Jason Statham’s main character finds that the real enemy is not Ray Liotta, but his own ego. Cue an insanely stupid climactic battle scene where Statham wrestles with his ego via jump cuts of various facial expressions in the mirror. This kind of “falling off” is on the level of ICP’s “Miracles” video, and I’m not saying Gab’s album is that bad, just that he’s taking the first steps on this path, which is unfortunate.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still some hot Gift of Gab here. He’s at his best when his labyrinthine, spiraling vocal flows drift around him like tendrils of smoke. He’s also at his best bumping vintage funk/soul beats and bringing George Clinton along as a guest. In fact, that track with Clinton, “Everything is Fine,” is one of the strongest moments of the album and almost pulls off the soft/hard parallel that Gab is searching for. “This is a place of peace and privacy/ I’m a monk of the funk, this is my monastery.” Nice, that works, but then it drops into next track “Toxic,” and we’re back to the played-out world of 1990s backpack rap. Or worse, some of the verses on “Toxic” sound like shrill text messages from melodramatic teenagers. Witness:
I think your screws are loosing, you’re not too tightly wrapped
E-mo-tion-a-lly abusive if I would give you that…
Much rope than you would use it
Say shit behind my back
Demoralize my character, your smile is just an act
You quick to blame, but never take a care for your own actions
Unspoken energy is present in our inner actions
You make mistakes and then get mad with everybody else
If you don’t change your ways, you’re bound to end up by yourself.
As tempted as I am to type up the rest of the lyrics (and more), I think the point’s been made. Hip-hop is so interesting and exciting these days that poorly rehashing old tropes just isn’t gonna fly anymore. Gab needs to push himself as an artist, and if having an identity crisis is needed before that happens, then let’s hope The Next Logical Progression is where he gets it out of his system.