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Grand Puba’s ‘2000′

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It’s pretty weird that nowadays, every New York punchline-based mixtaper, hardass Southern trap-hopper, and everyone in-between, kinda raps like Grand Puba. Not that his influence stretches that far or that he invented the style, but the whole willfully weird or just purposefully bad pop-culture similes stacked atop one another until finally stumbling into a vaguely thematically-linked hook, is something Puba’s all over on his second album, 1995’s ‘2000′.

Other than Kanye West and Lil Wayne- both of whom probably do still care about Grand Puba- Puba-ish similes and references don’t really jibe with the cold-as-ice persona of most of today’s radio rappers. Weirdo metaphors for how much coke one sells are cool, but they don’t make sense because it’s like this goofy thing being used to brag about this very real, even scary thing. Like- just off the top of my head now- when a Clipse song is like “I was like Richard Gere/I had bitches breathless”, it’s funny because Clipse are making a reference to the Gere version of ‘Breathless’ and there’s an interesting tension to these emotionally-distant coke-selling machines making such a nerdy reference, but it just doesn’t work; It makes more sense when it’s this dirty old man like Grand Puba coming up with this shit because he’s not trying to be anything more than this like awkward, hilarious weirdo.

‘2000’s first track ‘Very Special’ starts with some vague jazz horns under layers of record crackle before kicking into Puba briefly interpolating The Delfonics’ ‘La La Means I Love You’ years before Ghostface (at other points on the album Puba slips into ‘Rock the Boat’, ‘Get Down Tonight’, Phoebe Snow, and Beavis & Butthead and Urkel impressions), doing a hilariously dead-on approximation of the Delfonics’ soul-singer whine and then all of a sudden, that part’s just over and he’s actually rapping and dropping these brilliant, almost non-sequitur punchlines that if you think about them long enough, hold a kind of internal logic that can’t be explained but works: “So many brothers try to be me/Only two can probably see me, that’s Ray Charles and Stevie.” A few lines later, he’s telling us how he gets “honeys hooked like they kids is hooked on Power Rangers” which is one of many superhero and cartoon references that, have since become the obnoxious go-to for rappers that want to signify nerd-dom but here, feel more like Puba just doing Puba.

Nothing about him feels forced, so when Puba decides to actually say something it doesn’t feel like the token “message” song we anticipate on most rap albums, but a sudden revelation from the jokester of the group. ‘Backstabbers’ is a kind of reversal on the (sorry) “bros before hoes” track you expect and album closer, ‘Change Gonna Come’ totally sells its serious message because Puba’s spent most of his time just being a dirty old man, referencing a girls’ “stinkbox” and stuff, so when he tells the listener “A gat don’t make you a man/Cause the man made the gat/So, stop with the black on black”, he means it, precisely because he hasn’t spent the past ten tracks going in that direction.

On ‘I Like It’, one of Puba’s most popular songs, his ability to not really say much but never devolve into a monotone flow or lose listener interest is impressive. You get record fuzz, tight drums, ghostly vocal samples and a perfect vibraphone loop, while Puba flows casually but somehow immediately too. He sounds off-the-head but never intimidated by the beat, never bleating out the lines, just taking his time and running up and around the beat, sometimes on-beat with the drums, other times he stops or runs a little off and repeats a word to catch-up or decides to temporarily ride some subtle production flourish but eventually finds his way back in time for the chorus. The best example starts with Puba’s line about “Gold diggers who try to get it” and how he “left em’ backwards”, adding the hilarious line, “they thought they farted when they shitted”, and then in a sing-song voice bragging nonsense like “Cause Puba’s everything and everything is Pu” before moving towards the Debarge-sample assisted chorus.

The album’s production arguably, fits his persona even better than the equally-classic work on his debut and Brand Nubian’s ‘One For All’. ‘2000’s production, moves further away from the Marley Marl style and towards the cohesion and musicality and lack of chaos found on the Native Tongues’ stuff and the genuinely game-changing ‘The Chronic’. These beats are not disparate pieces of samples put together, but extended grooves that gel into songs for Puba to do whatever the fuck he wants over. Every track is anchored by some heavy, boom-bap drums and a warm film of record hiss, but each has its own thing for your ears to obsess over. The Sci-Fi bleeps and bloops that meet a lightly plucked guitar on ‘Keep On’, some synths that are on some Michael Jackson ‘Human Nature’ shit and a particularly yearning soul music wail hold ‘Amazing’ together, and some thick flanged-out keyboard work helps sell the affecting ‘Change Gonna Come’.

One of my favorite aspects of ‘2000′ is the way it links and mixes-up so many of the best things about rap of the mid-90s. The drums on every track are hard but the beats drip with 70s-soul crackle and vibed-out jazz; the rapping is immediate and fun but wordly-wise and far from disposable and it also has that thing so many 90s rap albums have: a bunch of dudes just yelling shit in the background. Rap’s always been about ego and being that dude, but there’s a communal aspect that permeates even an album like this, which is essentially guest-less and pretty much totally focused on Grand Puba. The shouts and chants and Blackstreet-esque “yeah-eahhh”s on ‘A Little of This’ and the classic New York crew call-and-response on ‘2000′ remind you that the world doesn’t revolve around the guy who left Brand Nubian. Now that’s something besides punchlines today’s rappers could afford to swipe from Grand Puba.

Grand Puba’s ‘2000′ is sadly, currently out-of-print but isn’t too hard (or expensive) to find on eBay and probably all over one of those Mp3 blogs that kids love so damned much….

-‘Keep On’ (produced by Chris Liggio)
-‘Change Gonna Come’ (produced by Dante Ross)

-Consequence ft. John Legend ‘And You Say’ (off ‘Take Em’ to the Cleaners Mixtape’): Cons raps over the ‘I Like It’ beat.

Written by Brandon

February 13th, 2008 at 5:42 am