Album: Life Force Radio
Label: Koch Records
Rating: 3 / 10
Oh, how this world is capable of breeding so many injustices. September 11th. The Armenian Holocaust. Nestle marketing policies in the Third World. The drunk dude spilling his drink on that 70 quid shirt I bought a couple of months ago. Afu-Ra.
Yes, Afu-Ra. Some amazing emcees go through life being let down by less than amazing production. But Afu is the man who tricked everybody into thinking he was dope by doing all his early appearances with Jeru The Damaja. Because of this, he was given extraordinary resources to cut his debut album, “Body Of The Life Force” – Primo, Muggs, True Master and more on the boards, while Cocoa Brovaz, M.O.P, and Wu-Tang Clan luminaries GZA and Masta Killa filled guest spots. Only a true microphone dud could mess it up. So meet a true microphone dud. Despite the producers turning out amazing beats (‘Mortal Kombat’, ‘Defeat’, ‘Soul Assassination’, ‘Big Acts, Little Acts’) and the guests tearing them to shreds, Afu still waddled along clutching his daft kung-fu schtick in one hand, dropping earth-shatteringly uncreative lyrics like “You couldn’t hold me, if you wore gloves or mittens” and the monumental “I blow like missiles”. Uh, word.
And so he hath returned for “Lifeforce Radio”, with a new array of reknowned beatmakers, such as Primo & RZA, and a fresh band of superior guest emcees, such as Big Daddy Kane, Guru, M.O.P. again, and some more of his mates from the Wu-Tang.
The kung-fu schtick – “schtick” doesn’t do the cheesiness of it justice – is still firmly in place, as we’re introduced to “Lifeforce Radio” with some Far Eastern instruments and Afu babbling about “don’t blind yourself mentally and physically”. Fellow kung-fu film fan RZA is roped in for ‘Dangerous Language’ to drop a verse in full Bobby (‘did I freestyle this or write it? Haha, you can’t tell can you?’) Digital mode, although whether the offbeat ramblings of Mr Digi are any worse than Afu’s despicably limp flows – “one time in the place to be, I’m on the mic and you know I’m straight rippin it G” – is still up for debate. “Muhammed Ali can’t move as smooth as I be” – he can move smoother than an elderly man who is dying from Parkinson’s disease? Wow.
Unsurprisingly, the best aspect of ‘Dangerous Language’ is the beat, a brilliant horn-accented and piano-driven banger from True Master. And surprise surprise, the wack emcee on a dope beat formula recurs a few times – take the opening track, ‘Scat Man’, with lovely chopped up pianos and a headnodding rhythm. But, like he always does, Afu spits generic targetless battle raps which are so lifeless and pathetic – “some emcees is yapping, and they flapping, I listen to your whole album and ain’t nothing happening” – that complaining about his charisma-less mic presence, which makes Al Gore seem like an ideal party animal, is just rubbing salt in the wounds. Or how about the 12″ track, ‘Hip Hop’? You will look to the sky and yell “WHYYYYY!!” when you realise how ridiculously dope a beat has been wasted on how wack an emcee. Afu tries to flip a tongue-twisting quick-rap style at the start, but after a bar or two quickly reverts to his trademark “I’m making moves on the mic like I was dice” sluggish style. And neither the hook – “you want some hip hop? Then holla hell YEAH!! Feel this hip hop!! HELL YEAH!!” – nor building the chopped up guitars of the beat into a Vaiesque wiggly-wiggly-woo guitar solo at the end, are good ideas by the way.
Strangely enough the one person who can usually be relied on messes up here, as shock horror, the two Primo cuts have unappealing beats. Lead 12″ single ‘Boulevard’ – featuring the whole Gangstarr collective, all two of ’em – features the most apathetic Primo turnout in history. It sounds like he’s just thrown on the traditional patented Premier drum & bass pattern, stuck a silly horn accent in at the end of the loop, and that’s it. It makes for a very tepid and very drab cut, with Afu being inept as usual but he does provide a nice new quote to replace “I blow like missiles” – this year, Afu-Ra is “thick like yogurt”. And don’t get excited at “featuring Guru”, as he only does a short hook. The other Primo cut ‘Lyrical Monster’ is straight nothingness, the beat sounding way too much like a hundred past Premier productions. However ironically enough, Afu drops the line “A lot of hot rappers ain’t nothing without their beat”. Quite. The collaboration with M.O.P. titled ‘Crossfire’ (well what did you expect a M.O.P. collaboration to be called, ‘Daisies In The Meadow’?) is more predictable than anything else, and your imagination has probably painted a pretty accurate picture of it already. The appearance of Big Daddy Kane on ‘Stick Up’ is welcome but about a decade too late for King Asiatic to seriously rip it, while ‘Miss You’ has a nice bassline but is once again lacking in lyricals from Mr. Ra – “I’m getting around like Ronald McDonald dude”.
Strangely enough a lot of the beats here aren’t that great, despite them coming from top notch producers. ‘Aural Fixation’ has a simplistic beat and the lyrics are standard dull-as-ditchwater generic battle material, as they are for ‘Sacred Wars’ and ‘Perverted Monks’, except the former’s production sounds like it was salvaged from Mis-Teeq’s dustbin and the latter’s just lacking in anything whatsoever.
Thankfully, whereas Afu spent almost every track on “Body Of The Life Force” spitting battle raps, he ventures into more topics this time around. ‘123’ has a elegant horn-driven beat and Afu blesses it with personal lyrics that are not that bad at all, even if his personality still leaves a lot to be desired, making for the best overall track on the album. Sadly on most the tracks he does go into topics he recruits R&B singers to do the hook, something which has to be pulled off with the upmost artistry (see De La’s ‘Held Down’) or it just ends up sounding like basically somebody sticking a R&B singer on the hook of a hip hop track to make it catchy. The latter, as I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you, is very much the case here. On ‘Open’, Afu’s introspective lyrics are very boring but wholly harmless, leaving the entire track to be reduced to a travesty by Teena Marie doing fake orgasms on the hook. It’s the same story on ‘Readjustment’, where Afu gives us a insight into his mind (mmm, yes please) and the hook is sung (I use the term loosely) by someone who sounds like D’Angelo’s mailman. These two elements blend together to make a dope track like vinegar and olive oil blend together to make a tasty beverage.
Well Afu has done it again. His big-name collaborators were less impressive this time around, but it still took some woefully inept performances on the old mic device coupled with some horrible ideas to run this project aground. But rest assured, Afu will be back soon with a third album, with more world famous collaborators and more bangin’ beats. Canibus, Ras Kass, Kool G Rap, and a thousand more productionally challenged emcees on line one.