Rhymefest Rocks With You
Music lovers, welcome to the Wild West. Yes, the future of the record business could be a post-apocalyptic “Road Warrior” landscape where musicians “shoot” first and ask questions later. And the beautiful thing about such a breakdown in the system is that we’re going to hear some amazing music emanating from the rubble.
All this comes to mind because of Rhymefest. On his amazing “Man in the Mirror,” a free “dedication album” that at press time was available at his Rhymefeststore, the Chicago rapper tells lucky downloaders that “labels is falling in the streets.” But that attitude is probably the least remarkable element of “Man in the Mirror.” Chiefly, this is art made purely for art’s sake, a sly tribute to Michael Jackson that derives its energy from the sheer joy of creation, unsullied by red tape and market concerns.
“Man in the Mirror” could not be more unauthorized. Rhymefest, producer Mark Ronson and guests including Talib Kweli, Ghostface Killah and singer Daniel Merriwether crafted a touching, hilarious and refreshingly rebellious album built around classic Jacko songs, recorded interviews with the singer and bootlegged outtakes from the “Thriller” sessions. Getting clearance for these samples would take years, if they happened at all, and the clock is ticking — authorities could shut down this joint like a Chicago speakeasy at any moment.
The magically carefree tone is set with the opening track, “Cipher,” featuring Jackson beat-boxing on a static-filled recording with Rhymefest, complete with “hee-hees” and rhythmic glottal stops. The “Thriller Skit,” featuring obscure recordings of Jackson recording voiceovers for his biggest album, segues into some hot mid-’70s Jackson 5 grooves rapped over by ‘Fest and worked over by Ronson, the producer behind Lily Allen’s “Alright, Still” and Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black.”
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