REVIEW: Hot Karl – The Great Escape

The Great Escape

Artist: Hot Karl

Album: The Great Escape

Label: Headless Heroes

Rating: 7 / 10

Reviewer: A to the L

White guy from Malibu raps. Sounds like Paul Barman. Has a blog. Pronounces all his I-N-G’s. Has a Natalie Portman fetish. Is quite shite. The end.

Or so the review should read if things go according to expectations. However Hot Karl isn’t your normal white rapper from Malibu. For starters did you know that he signed to Interscope on the back of a DJ Lethal produced demo, and went on to record an album that featured Redman, Fabolus, DJ Quik, Mya, Sugar Ray, DJ Clue and MC Serch? Did you know that his new album “The Great Escape” features an appearance from Dave Gossett The A&R Man? Yes THAT Dave Gossett, Black Sheep fans. That’s piqued your interest hasn’t it? Lets move on.

The Interscope project never dropped – something to do with scheduling conflicts or something – and Karl negotiated a release from the label which would allow him to go back to the underground and “make Hiphop fun.” Yes, I understand your gay-o-meters may be sounding right about now, but stick with it – check the blurb cribbed from his site (hotkarl.com)…

“I’m only going to speak about things I know,” Karl explains. “My keeping it real is much different than most other MC’s.” Karl has recently signed with EMI Publishing and found his music (as well as likeness) in the video game, NBA Live 2003, proving that leaving a major label is hardly an ending – but rather just another beginning.”

So, lets talk about Karl’s documenting of “his way” of keeping it real – “The Great Escape.” Fourteen tracks covering life in the burbs, the record industry, the life of the white emcee etc etc… all covered before by various other white emcees who’ve struggled in making any kind of dent on the collective radars of Hiphop fans the world over. What make’s Karl different to them (apart from the Portman thing?)

The album opens with ‘Lets Talk’ which features Karl trading verses with MC Serch in a critical beatdown of the record industry and its inner workings, over a beat which sounds like a chopped up sample from the Primo remix of Lina’s ‘Its Alright’. Serch plays the bad guy, talking recoupable advances, TRL and 106 & Park, and the music versus business model, while Karl holds his corner as the cat who is about his art first, and who doesn’t want to sacrifice his principles for the fast cash. Its a decent opener, though by the third verse, Karl’s screaming on the mic gets a little ‘Kim’-ish.

If you hadn’t figured out that this is a concept album (along the lines of “Prince Among Thieves” and Masta Ace’s last 3 joints) by the end of the track, then what follows should definitely convince you. Y’see, ‘Let’s Talk’ ends with Serch tossing a 150 grand advance at Karl after ‘convincing’ him that the record company way is the right way. ‘Suburban Superstar’ is a club track (and a bloody good one at that) which features an addictive Mayru-produced backdrop, a breathy female hook, and the standard 3 x 16 bars of nonsense that all commercial records MUST possess (after all the lyrics are ONLY there to separate the hooks, right?

Nas had ‘Memory Lane’. Pete Rock and CL had ‘T.R.O.Y.’ And Karl has ‘Kerk Gybson’ – HIS track of 80’s memories, where he namechecks his major influences and memories from the 80’s – UNLV basketball program, Transformers, 867-5309 Jenny, Rainbow Brite, Tetris, Madonna, Bo Jackson, Molly Ringwald and many others all get the hat tip over a suitably synth-heavy beat (again from Mayru). ‘Butterface’ meanwhile, deals with those ladies who have a hot body, ‘but-her-face’ looks like she’s been hit with a shovel, and calls out Serena, Mya, Macy Gray, and Sarah Jessica Parker amongst others as prime candidates to carry the title. However despite the fact that the subject is covered expertly, the fact that Mayru’s drums limp along under a few sparse computer blips and bleeps means that musically its a little bit of a mis-step.

As is ‘Home Sweet Home’ which covers Karl’s experience growing up outside the hood – again its a case of the lyrics covering the subject perfectly, but the music turning the listener off. This time around, Reggie Watts’ countrified hook kicks the track straight into beer commercial territory, and quickly forces a move to the skip button…

…which you’ll probably press again within ten seconds of hearing ‘Back/Forth’. Karl is the first to admit this is little more than a piss-take of Miami booty music, with Karl bragging about his sexual prowess on 2 verses, before female guest Boobie Poquito shatters his myth on verse three, but this really is little more than a private joke between Karl and his buddies on wax. For the great unwashed outside Karl’s circle of influence it sounds like nothing more than a bad C&C Music Factory track, and isn’t really worth repeated listens.

‘Just Like Me & You’ covers the life of Jean, who moves from North Dakota to Hollywood to pursue a career in showbusiness, but finds that her dreams are unlikely to ever be fulfilled. However, unwilling to accept this reality, she continues to lie to her family and friends about the parties she attends and the stars she has met, to keep up the facade that she IS a success. While the morals of the story are evident, Karl’s delivery on the chorus makes him sound (for the ONLY time on the album) like Eminem, and as we all know that Eminem lives in Toolsville these days, that’s not a good thing, and actually detracts from the impact of the whole song.

(Coincidentally, if you check out the excellent liner notes you’ll find that Karl has addressed the Eminem-ness himself, acknowledging where and why this track turned out the way it did. Other artists, could perhaps take a note from Karl and ?love – rambling descriptions of how each track on an album was made, and the processes behind it are supremely entertaining to read. Especially when you’re taking a dump.)

‘Dreamin’ has rock guitars. When will rappers learn?

Sprinkled throughout the album are several skits featuring Dave Gossett (Yes THAT Dave Gossett etc etc) where he tries to convince Karl to change his style and introduce certain gimmicks and hooks that other popular artists are doing. Although its all done in humor, its actually not to hard to imagine the reality behind it – certainly there are endless amounts of artists who have been moulded by the record industry to reflect what THEY think is popular. So although the ridiculousness of Gossett instructing Karl to channel Young Gunz, Lil Scrappy and co is apparent, the underlying message is real – and thought provoking in the extreme. “Just ask yourself one last time before its all over – do you really think people wanna hear you being yourself?”

‘I’ve Heard’ almost makes up for a few of the other misfires, and indeed is almost worth the price of admission alone. Here, Karl rocks over a beautiful 9th Wonder beat, and comes straight from the heart in as raw a performance from any emcee as you’re likely to here. The reason? Well, stung by the fact that 9th originally didn’t want to let Karl use any of his beats because he didn’t feel any of his music, he sat down and poured out all his feelings on past and present rejections, all the rumors he’s heard about producers talking behind his back, and a gang of other stuff which, to be fair, would test the nerves of most of us, were we trying to make some moves in the music industry. This is a beautiful, poignant song and one which you should do your best to hear, whether you buy this album or not.

Overall, I’m definitely feeling where Karl is coming from and despite a few stumbles, “The Great Escape” is definitely worthy of your attention.He’s not trying to play the corniness card like Barman, nor he is trying to be some kind of industry powerhouse like Eminem, nor some kind of white guy trying to be down (which like it or not, is what many pegged his homie Serch as.) Nope – Karl is just trying to be Karl – a regular guy who likes Hiphop music. And that’s the pure definition of keeping it real…

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