Backburner - Heatwave
There are collaborations, posses, crews, super groups, and then there is Backburner. Sixteen emcees, seven producers, and one deejay have come together to make Heatwave. Before I even get to the quality of the album, let me just marvel at the sheer logistics of coordinating that many musicians. It’s no small feat. They feature Fresh Kils, Wordburglar, Timbuktu, More or Les, Uncle Fester, Ghettosocks, Chokeules, Jesse Dangerously, Jay Bizzy, Thesis Sahib, Beatmason, Frank Deluxe, Dexter Doolittle, Paybo, Ambition, Johnny Hardcore, Manalive, Ginzu33 and Mister E. The Toronto/Halifax super group first performed under the moniker in 2001. Since then, they’ve been trying to get everyone together on one LP. With Heatwave, they've finally accomplished their goal.
With so many cooks in the kitchen, this album could have easily turned into a mess, but Heatwave is a very coherent listening experience. While there are many different producers on the album with different styles and backgrounds, they are all the same page here. There are a lot of different directions they could have taken this record, but it's mostly kept on the fun side of things, with soul and funk samples and big drums, so it's easy to drop some rhymes and pass the mic. There are a few tracks that step outside this zone, such as “Phantom Ghost,” produced by Beatmason, who does a nice job building a track off of Nintendo samples.
Lyrically, I realize that having this many emcees on one album makes it difficult to make political message songs or to do much in the way of drawn out story telling. It's not easy getting everyone on the same page. As a result, most of the rhymes are of the party or battle raps, and there’s plenty of fun and clever exchanges and smart wordplay going on here. Individually, many in Backburner have produced really smart and challenging albums. However, with as many contributors as there are on Heatwave, there are no women involved. This becomes apparent a few times over the course of the album, as lyrics occasionally tend towards immature, sexist, locker room talk. I don’t think there’s necessarily ill intent here, but on an album that’s as condensed as this one, there’s not a lot of room for nuanced discussion of sexuality, so it’s easy for any talk of sex on the album to come across more offensive than intended.
This criticism aside, Heatwave is still a very entertaining album bursting with energy. There’s a ton of talent and great hip hop happening in Toronto and Halifax, and this album serves as a nice introduction. Who knows when an album like this will happen again, but I hope they're able to do it. The first challenge was figuring out how to make a crew this big work on the album format, and they did that. I hope in the future they’ll be more comfortable and will try to push the envelope more. There's plenty to like about Heatwave, but I know there's more talent there than came through.