For a music that prizes realness above all else, hip-hop has become an exercise in surrealism....
DJBooth Album Review
If there’s a path rappers are supposed to travel down on the road to success, Wax is off the map. A Maryland rocker whose band fell apart, Wax followed a female to the west coast, watched that relationship fall apart, started drinking heavily, ended up in L.A., started posting rap videos on YouTube, amassed a massive following and just like that he was a full time rapper. (It’s always good to sum up someone’s life in one run-on sentence.) Having circumnavigated all the typical routes to hip-hip success, it should be no surprise that Wax doesn’t sound quite like anyone else. An album like Scrublife could only come from one man.
Of course all the relatability (it’s a word now) in the world wouldn’t matter if the man didn’t have any actual rhyme skills, so it’s no coincidence that Wax begins Scrublife with Red, a four-minute straight lyrical meandering that also, I guarantee, is the only song in hip-hop history to begin with the words “Beans in the pot/hot dogs on the griddle.” By the time Red’s done you may not love Wax, but you will have to admit he’s no gimmick, no joke…even if his rhyme style so often borders on the hilarious (word to Dale Firebird). Similarly, the sedated Don’t Need finds him somehow both rhyming “bread smidgens” and “pigeons” and talking at length to a fish, while those concerned he doesn’t know his hip-hop history should take a listen to 2010 ‘Til Infinity, a more than capable cover of Souls of Mischief’s classic cut. Pair those records with the darkly narrative Mary and the head-nodding Old Ways and you’ve got a rapper unafraid to let us into even the dusty and strange corners of his mind; think the Beastie Boys, only more dysfunctional. (I know, I know, I fell into the “white rappers can only be compared to other white rappers” trap. What do you want me to do? He reminds me of the Beasties.)
Although, as we’ve established, Wax can indeed rap, he lets his rock roots take center stage repeatedly on Scrublife, displaying a pop singers touch for simple and memorable choruses. At their best these pop-influenced songs are instantly memorable, like the self-explanatory Dispensary Girl. Or, at least I might have to explain that in California “medical” marijuana is legal, so one could buy legal pot from a dispensary, fall in love with the girl behind the counter and then write a pretty damn entertaining song about it. And as long as we’re at it I’ll throw hummable DUI homage Two Wheels into that mix. However, while these songs strengths is their simplicity, Wax’ minimalist approach can sometimes sound lacking. Shoo Ba Doop certainly has the foundations of a “screw this job” anthem, but the song’s beat and vocals are too muted to truly inspire and while Everything obviously embraces its own goofiness, there’s a fine line between not taking yourself too seriously and sounding like a joke. Still, even though not every foray into rock/pop will be a “hit”, it’s exactly that kind of musical versatility that makes Scrublife so remarkable.
Ultimately it’s really not that complicated. Scrublife isn’t for everyone, but if it was for everyone, it’d probably suck. Not everyone’s built to live the Scrublife like Wax - and this album’s more lifestyle than music – but if you are, you just found one of the realest rappers around.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 04/7/11
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"Music and Liquor" (2010)
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