Random Axe - Random Axe
Random Axe is the collaboration between Detroit's Black Milk and Guilty Simpson, and New York's Sean Price. Black Milk produced the entire album, which features appearances from Fat Ray, Roc Marciano, Melanie Rutherford, Rock, and Trick Trick. There’s a temptation to call an album like this a super group, but it doesn’t play out as such.
I’ll be completely up front and honest before I get started. I’m not the biggest fan of Guilty Simpson and Sean Price, as both have the tendency as emcees to spout rhymes that just reinforce gangsta clichés and fall back on sexist and homophobic insults. I am a fan of Black Milk as a producer, however, but have been frustrated with him as a lyricist. This is because I know he’s capable of some very moving rhymes, as evidenced by last year’s Album of the Year, but he can also fall back on the same weak crutches as Price and Simpson. Going into this album, my expectations were that the production would be top notch, and I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised by the lyrics.
The introduction, “Zoo Drugs,” is very promising, with an interesting keyboard line and subtle pulsing drums building tension to lead into the album. This gives way into “Roll Call,” which features great funky drums and a combination of piano, organ, and choir samples that creates an warmth that just draws you in. The song gives way to some braggadocio rhymes from Simpson and Price, which start off okay, but we get our first sign of trouble when Price counters critics’ claims that he’s one dimensional by threatening to put a slug in their chests. Way to prove them...right? “Black Ops” follows this up with more great drums, this time with ominous keyboards that work to create tension in the track. Unfortunately, this is were the album really starts to come undone. First, we get the ignorant line from Simpson that “I’m blowing smoke signals at an Indian broad/I told her I’m unemployed please give me a job.” The combination of racism, sexism, and ignorance really makes my head hurt. Not to be outdone, Price jumps in with a line about guys wearing hemmed jeans looking like Ben Vereen. While you’re trying to figure out what he’s implying there, he’s already dropping the line “You prawn, king of the shrimps/Funny style, limp-wristed son of a bitch.” After threatening to shoot these hypothetical people, he drives it all home by stating “Your whole crew is pussy and very vagina/Promise to bust your snotbox whenever I find ya!”
I don’t want to get on a soapbox and say that you can’t talk about violence in hip hop, especially if you grew up in a rough neighborhood in Detroit or New York. In fact, there’s great value to it, from personal therapy to educating the rest of the world about your situation. All I want to get at is that there are constructive ways to do it, and there are ignorant and harmful ways to do it. When you use sexist and homophobic language to demean others and threaten them with violence, all you’re doing is playing into a stereotype of the thug rapper. You’re also not pushing yourself to write more intelligent rhymes, all while harming bystanders and not going after those who have actually done you harm. It’s about this time on the album that Black Milk as a producer seems to be checking out, and the beats get pretty generic, and it gets less interesting as the album goes on. “Chewbacca” is a strangely titled track in that there’s only one passing reference to Star Wars, but it does allow Roc Marciano to drop an especially hateful verse where he brags about “chopping up some f*ggots.” At least the problems of the album extend to the guest artists as well.
There’s nothing worse than a wasted opportunity. Black Milk is one of the most talented producers working in hip hop today, and the idea of teaming him up with two veteran emcees has the potential to get some creative energy flowing and to make some hip hop that will really move people. Instead, we get an album where Black Milk seems to lose interest, and Guilty Simpson and Sean Price seem content to lay down some tired clichés and reinforce sexist, homophobic and racist stereotypes. When I think about what this album could have been and what it actually is, I can only feel disappointed.