Album: MiClub: The Curriculum
Label: Mic Club
Rating: 8 / 10
There are many tight emcees in the rap game right now : Pharoahe Monch, Jay-Z, Rakim, Ras Kass, Gza, Black Thought, Talib Kweli : take your pick really. But to have a claim to be the best emcee out of all of these emcees must mean you are quite a special artist. While his seesawing career may indicate otherwise, Canibus has a rightful, just claim to this particular throne in terms of lyrical skills.
As we all sadly know, his career has not really moved in that way. After Bis released his best album to date, “2000 B.C.”, his career went completely the wrong way. He released the woeful, the infamous “C Hollywood Stories”, undoubtedly his worst effort by a long, long way. Add a seemingly pointless beef with Eminem, and his career looked completely down the toilet, he had been chucked off his label, critically and commercially shamed… but it €™s my belief that talented artists always bounce back, and in late 2002 Rip the Jacker released his fourth solo album, €œMiClub: The Curriculum €. The idea was to return to his roots, raw beats, uncomplicated tracks with simple hooks, and best of all tight rhymes. And it’s fair to say he has revived his career with this effort.
Anyone who knows Canibus is that he €™s a very specialised emcee. He won €™t make you dance, he won €™t make you jig and he won €™t (necessarily) make your head nod. I guess he €™s one of the few remaining cats left in the game who categorically cannot be accused of selling-out. “MiClub” is, like its name suggests, a raw, focused blast through the essence of hip-hop. The CD starts out with ‘Poet Laureate’, over DJ Kemo €™s surprisingly brassy horn and guitar combination, €˜Bis attacks at full speed with his stunningly clinical, vicious battle raps filled choc-a-bloc full of scientific quotes and varied vocab. There €™s no hook, no breaks, its just in ya face and intense.
As you would have guessed, most of “MiClub” follows this same pattern. €˜Bis has by no means fallen off lyrically, and each verse he pens is usually as tight as the last. What differs this time is that he €™s found some VASTLY improved production. Kaos blends infectious soul samples with energetic, descending bass grooves on ‘Master Thesis’, while Canibus narrates his quest to become a more knowledgeable person through his studies, spitting hot rhymes in the process:
€œTrack my adversaries like a mouse in a maze
With a bewildering array, of lyrical display
The best of Bis often rearranges
Moto atomic elements, with a deft intelligence
The highest professorship, my English etiquette
Compels me to not say it if I can’t spell it, bitch €.
There is a definite consensus that past Canibus albums have been really hampered by poor production (I €™m looking at you, “Can-I-Bus”?), but here there is rarely these problems. Tracks like ‘Behind Enemy Rhymes’, with its catchy Reggae-influence melody, highlight the definite progress made by Bis in this area.
But no matter what the beats are like, lyrics are what Canibus is renowned for. He doesn’t disappoint, using his vast vocabulary in ways that will make the average listener on the street get blown away. Undoubtedly the highlight of the battle rap tracks is ‘Curriculum 101’. Kyros €™ tense, dramatic piano keys and strings lend a real Tubular Bells slasher flick tone to the song, and €˜Bis finally throws back some clever taunts as Eminem:
€œAnybody better than Bis must be a hoax
Black man NO, what about the great white hope?
What? Man you must be sniffin’ the great white coke
Don’t don €™t you like Gary Comb, I €™m fightin’ the hulk
Still not even quite that close
A great mic fight in ya rubber dingy boat, 50 miles out from the coast
What the f–k is the Mathers with you?
I beat you black and blue, then I give the tablet the true
Better yet I put a tattoo of me on you / A 10 by 10 ceelo go neon blue €.
Very, very occasionally, the sheer number of stunning rhymes that the listener is being assaulted with can get occasionally monotonous. See while €˜Bis has one of the best flows in the rap game, his clinically controlled style rarely differs much in tone and he can sound samey. No problems though, because stellar guests like Kool G Rap jump in on collabs like ‘Allied Meta-Forces’. Despite G Rap €™s legendary status, I still feel €˜Bis comes tighter on this excellent track. The other guests that pop up during the album, underground rap duo Jedi Mind Tricks and Luminati, all deliver impressive performances.
While on the subject of improvements, asides from sometimes boring production, Bis €™ other main problem in past efforts was a real lack of lyrical variety. All you got was battle rap, battle rap, battle rap. He has definitely tried to change this with “MiClub”. Over a really rousing, fiery Kyros backing track that literally sounds like its just escaped from Hell, €˜Bis dedicates ‘Drama A/T’ to a thorough dissection of drama in life. It €™s not your basic approach, he really gets involved with his subject matter like any good writer does. Check this sick line:
€œDrama is the nuclear threat that we live with
One bomb and everybody’s dead, that’s some sick shit €.
‘Bis Vs Rip’ is definitely one of the album €™s standouts. PlusSciences €™ brooding orchestral strings give some lush atmosphere to the track, and Canibus proceeds to battle his alter-ego Rip the Jacker. You €™re confused? Well, basically €˜Bis is battling himself, because there is only cat that is ill enough to mess with €˜Bis, and that €™s himself. He weaves in a lot of different references in this track, including an extended shot at LL Cool J, and it €™s a nice way of looking at Bis €™ career.
There €™s no denying it, €œMiClub € is a real lesson as to how make a lyrical album that the purists will appreciate. This is rammed full of relentlessly complex, sophisticated rhymes from one of hip-hop €™s elite emcees, and past faults have mostly been ironed out. Improved production plays a large part in this album, and even though the scientific complexities and sheer unrelenting nature of Bis €™ lyrics could (and probably will) make this a hard album to access for some listeners, Canibus has undoubtedly released one of 2002 €™s best releases with “MiClub”.