Indie (November 24, 2010)
Review by Jason Carlos Cardona
Manchild, of Mars ILL renown, teamed up with beatsmith Jaq from Scribbling Idiots and together they turned out You Don’t Know Jaq. The EP runs 7 tracks and 20 minutes, but soars for about only 3 and 8. This could have been a defining performance for Jaq. He had an album concept revolving around him and none other than Manchild on-board. But Jaq’s beats weren’t meaty enough to make this EP a real meal, and Manchild wasn’t hungry anyway.
The opening track, “Know Jaq,” picks up on the playful title and (one would think) introduces an album concept. Jaq’s beat moves back and forth incongruously between an ominous string and upbeat drums. There is no natural togetherness in the two choices, but it’s an apropos start to a project that sounds like what it is: rapping over beats, as opposed an accomplished, cohesive album. Manchild uses “Know Jaq” to play off Jaq’s name and introduce us, but the generic boosting feels like Manchild knows Jaq as little as we do:
Jaq got beats
Suckers run and hide
But Jaq he walk streets
And Jaq wanted the boss
So you know he called me
Manchild’s rhymes are never bad on this EP. There is no shame in his game. But there’s no ill in his will either. As the star attraction, Manchild should have taken creative control and pushed Jaq to adapt. Instead, we get a boringly literal introduction like “Know Jaq.” There are a million ways he could have flipped the album concept to let Jaq shine. Yeah, we get it, his name can be used with “Jack of Spades” and other clever puns. But like De La Soul says, “Unlike them, we craft gems / So systematically inclined to pen lines without saying the producer’s name all over the track.” Manchild needed to show us who Jaq is, not tell us.
I’m a Manchild fanboy, but every Christian rapper, “Christian” rapper, and Christian “rapper” has a Manchild 00:31 somewhere on his album, and while Manchild may be able to drop a nice verse on any beat, being the Rent-A-Rapper puts him in a position where collaboration is stunted. When Manchild comes weak (by his standards) it is usually because he’s leaning too much on end rhyme or latching on to repetitive styles (e.g., using Jaq’s name as a crutch on “Know Jaq,” categorizing things like “It Takes All Kinds In This Bizness,” finding 50 ways to ask a question like “Who Wanna?”). These are symptoms of someone who has written so much that originality suffers under necessity, as he constantly has to get verses out onto someone else’s track. Manchild ten years ago would have eaten alive the Rent-A-Rapper we hear on “Know Jaq.” That’s real talk, but it is what it is.
The EP’s next three tracks make for serviceable background music when you want to just chill and clip your toenails without thinking too much. Jaq keeps it simple on “I Can” with nice drums and an understated vocal sample used to good effect. His drums are consistently good on this project, actually. His beats work for the most part, but they need rounding out. A vocal sample here, a little scratching there, maybe some dialogue there, and Jaq would have created something more lasting. “The Life Life” is a real nice beat and could bump like The Roots’ “Guns Are Drawn,” but it needs a vocal sample or something to put it over the top and complement Manchild. “Don’t Call Us,” an otherwise excellent track, is marred by a stumpy 23 second final verse that could have been replaced with dialogue between Jaq and Manchild. And “Due Coming” desperately needs some scratching to adorn the pauses ruined by Manchild’s humming.
Manchild shines like his old self on the EP’s last three tracks. These are little gems in Manchild’s collected works, and they make this EP worth the purchase. To his credit, Jaq brought some nice beats on these tracks (and “Don’t Call Us” is reeeeeeal nice), but these are gems because Manchild finally broke out of the formulaic rhyming and repetition and conjured his verbal dexterity and conceptual focus. He lays down his trump card on “Don’t Call Us.” You can hear the freshness even on the page:
Man please don’t call us. We’ll call you, dog
You slicker than a cue ball rocking at the pool hall
Repping with your crew strong, set running rude long
East coast stomping with the patent leather shoes on
These fools talk like no respect to the fellowship
They peddling intelligence with no skill to sell it with
Double fisted up they favorite malt beverages
It’s like they see the truth that they wack and need a sedative
This track is the closest they get to creatively flipping the album concept. Jaq’s name doesn’t have to appear even once because it’s such a dope beat and smooth smack down. If they had 7 tracks as good as this one, the review you’re reading would be quite different.
“Due Coming,” the EP’s closing track, has as much to do with the album concept as Robert Horry has to do with 7 championships. I guess, given the scene Manchild raps in, it is understandable, but it’s an example of how this EP has no conceptual focus. You didn’t know Jaq when the album started and you still don’t Jaq, but let’s throw in a track about knowing Christ. Regardless, it’s a good track; and again, listen to it on the page:
Sound shakes the panel and
Rolling stone rambling down these North American highways
Spirit of Miles Davis I’m channeling
Bell tower timers now rang out so I’m answering
Death of the anonym
Life speaking and mic dreaming
Cut you down right where you stand
But for the right reasons
I treat it like it’s vital
These suckers sightseeing
Troubled that they might be in line of fire fire breathing
This EP should have been more Hip Hop heavy, a chance for Jaq and Manchild to flex as beatmaker and rhymesayer and say something about Hip Hop. The album concept was a goldmine, they just didn’t dig enough. And it’s no excuse (not for Jaq, at least) that this was an EP. The brevity should have made for even more focus and precision. Jaq got beats, that much he proved. But he missed his chance to really put his name out there. He needs to step his game up and become a player-manager.
As for Manchild, there’s no such thing as old rappers, just rappers who get old. He still knows what the deal is, even if he can’t flip it quite like he used to. “The Life Life” is the best cut on this EP because Manchild shows us where he really is at, with trademark honesty. No generic boosting. No stale rhyming. And forget whether Manchild ten years ago would have eaten himself alive today. He’s a grown @$$ man now:
My feet hit the floor and
Down the stairs I’m moving
Black coffee at 2 I’m saying that’s how I do it
I gotta wake the kids up
Get them off to school and
Kiss the love of my life and run to my car I’m cruising
I got a job to do it’s
Nothing to do with music
God given to make the scrilla my family using
I’m not the best but today I got to keep improving
It’s like I’m winning and want nothing to do with losing
That’s real talk. Manchild is not what he used to be, but he’s still who he’s always been. And if you know who that is, then it’s hard to ignore this EP, criticism notwithstanding.
For fans of: Mars ILL, Deepspace5, Scribbling Idiots