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Music For the Post-Modern Date Rapist: 88 Keys’ Death of Adam


In Stern show sidekick Artie Lange’s new book Too Fat to Fish he punctuates a particularly gruesome tale of a low-rent bachelor party, complete with lesbian show and one of those sad-ass strippers who’ll let you do anything to her, with this this insight:

“Bachelor parties are a unique and often uncomfortable male-bonding tradition, because they are where you find out once and for all who in your crew is a true pervert. My experience has been that it’s usually the nerdiest, most laid-back, passive-aggressive, guys you know.”

Whenever an indie, or underground or whatever rapper decides to do some relationship or sex or break-up rap, I have a similar thought about so-called “nerdy guys”; when it comes to girl-talk, they’re way worse than the regular rappers.

While your Rap-A-Lot hero(es) or typical “street” rapper might brag about busting on a girl’s face or whatever else, it’s always the nerdy rappers who drop the truly weird and uncomfortable misogyny. Talib Kweli’s line on “Joy” about how a child will “carry his name on”, the resentment that only a dork can have towards women on certain Slum Village or Little Brother songs, and more recently, the complete lack of insight or self-reflection other than “I married a crazy bitch” on pretty much every track we’ve got to hear from 808s & Heartbreak…these are way worse, way angrier than another line about running a train on a girl or having her taste your kids.

The smart rapper dudes have, in a lot of ways, intellectualized their misogyny, turning it into “I’m speaking from experience”/”Just telling it like it is” which is way more loathsome than saying ignorant shit. The same way a guy who says dumb racist stuff doesn’t quite piss you off in the same way as some aged intellectual “racial realest” will.

And so ostensibly, 88 Keys’ rap concept album The Death of Adam is those unfortunate tendencies in “smart” rappers extended to an entire album. At times, it breaks out of that and overall, it’s a little more complex–and I’ll get to that, I will–but ultimately, it all leads towards this sense that women are triflin’ and tries to present that as something more than the visceral anger of most hip-hop.

See, it’s not misogyny that’s problematic and at least the most interesting rappers that indulge in misogyny frame it as immediate emotion (think Ghostface or Scarface or Outkast), or guys fucking around and being dicks talk (Devin the Dude or Dre/NWA), and usually fault themselves somewhere, it’s when rappers try to pass off their perfectly-fine-in-my-eyes anger as sensible real-talk that issues of rap and misogyny seem worth talking about.

Really, the only time The Death of Adam enters into the more complex than it gets credit for anger of so-called gangsta rap is on “Close Call” when Little Brother’s Phonte, upon hearing news that the girl he’s with is pregnant, responds by telling her: “Option one: take this nigga to the hoover/Option two: Fuck on I never knew ya”. It’s brutally honest to the point that even if you share or side with Phonte when it comes to his plight, his language and presentation implicate him as an asshole. It’s darkly funny, calling his unborn child “this nigga” and turning “abortion” into “the hoover”, but so dark that you know he knows it’s fucked up he said it.

Another point where there seems to be some counter-point to 88 Keys’ half-baked concept is the transition from the instrumental “No I Said I LIKED You” to the Bilal-assisted “M.I.L.F”. “No” is a funky instrumental that turns more melancholy when it transitions into the obnoxious narrator informing us that Adam’s girlfriend’s indeed preggers and they’re keeping the baby despite Adam’s insistence they go “half on an abortion”. The narrator ends with “Adam’s life is official over” (there’s something particularly weird about Keys sticking his goofball dude-osophy in the mouth of a chick) and that transitions to the really touching “M.I.L.F”, where Bilal seems to be aping (more than usual) Curtis Mayfield’s register, particularly on something like “Makings of You”.

For once, the use of soul music and soul samples isn’t sort of ironic and it shifts the tone of the album. It seems to be the aural equivalent of the movie scene where even the most hardened of males tears up at the sight of a child being born, love springs or returns or whatever…the end of Knocked-Up but made on an MPC. And then the narrator comes in with a eulogy for Adam that declares him “another victim” and the feelings of “M.I.L.F” were either temporary or not there at all-which sort of keeps with the concept and sort of muddles it too.

The final song “Another Victim” has 88 Keys repeating the points of the album one more time, through heavy reverb (preferable to auto-tune though), a fun coda to the album except for the fact that the song has “victim” in the title, an annoying word be it used for girls in rap videos, strip clubs, or porn, dudes that fucked girls that lied about being on birth control, or criminals, the way it was in that Akon and Bone-Thugs song from a few years ago.

88 Keys’ production style, which relies on purposefully simple soul loops and a ton of elegant instrumentation, clearly owes a lot to Prince Paul and De La Soul’s conceptual edge, but those guys used the concept album to address plurality, to mix in differing voices and opinions; nearly everything on Death funnels back to the same damned point. After awhile, however entertaining and humorous the narrative might be on an immediate level, it starts to usurp itself by beating the listener over the head.

Especially frustrating is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be an alternative to girls that just want to have your baby and trick you by either fucking you or not fucking you, which is silly because the alternative is easy (at least in theory): Don’t date such flat-out retarded girls! A track where “Adam” finally meets a girl he can relate to or talk to outside of banging would be a really easy way to change the dynamic of the album. An even better and realistic track would be the one where Adam meets said girl and is basically freaked-out or annoyed by the fact that she’s challenging and interesting and reverts back to the type of girl that pops tic-tacs and tells you it’s the pill.

The Death of Adam is filled with musical fun and a shit-ton of opinions, but no real ideas. The project lacks insight and falls into the trap of nearly every proper concept album: self-indulgence. The fact that Keys felt the need to end every track with a hood rat narrator setting-up the next track when it’s totally unnecessary suggests either a lack of confidence in his music or a concern that somehow his super-obvious point would be missed.

Although the exact sense of what’s going on might be a little lost without narration, repeated listens or slightly more suggestive song titles make the point clear. And of course, it’s not a particularly new or interesting point to begin with, it’s what Outkast, and especially Big Boi have been harping on since at least ATLiens and again, it felt more like an opinion than some obsessive 43 minute need to justify being a douchebag guy.

Musically though, it flows together perfectly–barring “Friends Zone”, a DEVO-sampling indie rock exercise and those damned narrations–and there’s worse things to make than a pretty listenable concept album that’s light on actual ideas. Keys’ production is delightfully low-tech and although Kanye or Dilla comparisons are easy to make, he’s mining some weird territory that is only superficially similar to other soul-beatmakers.

The production’s like lo-fi, garage soul rap, not because it’s particularly gritty or dirty-sounding–if anything, the beats are weirdly clean, sampled from a CD clean–but because they purposefully fall back on simple, dependable production tricks like chipmunk soul, shifts in volume, keyboard/piano accompaniment, reverb, looping, and clipped vocals.

On “Handcuff Em”, Keys brilliantly holds out on an uplifting, soulful chant-hook until it actually matters, making it exciting and not just the part of a song that’s supposed to have a hook. “There’s Pleasure In it”, a song I already talked about, is interesting because it’s basically a song presenting sex, but it’s an avant-soul skronk of guitars, krautrock organ stabs, and New Wave vocals; it’s every sound on the album forced into a single track, which makes sense as it’s what the tracks before it led up to and what all the tracks after it will be about.

And although the overall message of the album’s hard to get behind, there’s tons of relatable details that are left out of most presentations of sex. Having sex without a condom isn’t the cool “hittin’ it raw” braggadocio of most rap, but frankly, a big dumb thing that every guy and girl that want to have sex have done a couple of times or all the time. On “(Awww Man) Round 2″, Keys illustrates a reality of sex at one time or another, for most guys I’ve known: essentially being “raped” by an eager female partner or one-night stand.

The flaws of Death though, come from the album’s cohesion, the way Keys’ really unsophisticated opinion of girls can never be totally separated from the enjoyment of the songs, which of course, is what feminists and sensitive smarty-pants types have been bemoaning about “gangsta rap” since its inception. But what’d Artie Lange tell you? It’s always the nerdy ones you really oughta look out for…

Written by Brandon

November 14th, 2008 at 5:42 am

Posted in 88 Keys, Kanye West

3 Responses to 'Music For the Post-Modern Date Rapist: 88 Keys’ Death of Adam'

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