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Nocando - Jimmy the Lock [Album]

Nocando - Jimmy the Lock [Album]

Alpha Pup Records

Review 2350 Views
Last Edited by: Matt D April 26th, 2010.

Nocando deals in Alternative Hip-hop with a capital ‘A’, trading in self-conscious lyrics that deconstruct and show up the mythical “rapper” persona perpetuated by Jay Z, Ghostface Killer, Lil Wayne et al. The confusion comes when Nocando’s obvious natural ability is masked by irritating and distracting production that makes “Jimmy the Lock” an underwhelming affair, never committed enough to stand out from the crowd or truly claim its place as a classic ‘underground’ record.

Oddly enough the day I review Nocando’s album is the very same that the undisputed godfather of alternative hip-hop – MC Guru from Gangstarr- passed away and so it seems an appropriate time as any to reflect on the position of alternative Hip-hop artists in the music industry today. No longer an underdog compared to the mainstream Gangsta or Hardcore, these are the days of Kanye West, Common, M.IA and Kid Cudi- artists that eschew the themes of violence, partying and gangsterism yet still sit among the big-hitters of the mainstream at the top of the charts. Could it be, as was the case with alternative rock taking over the 90s, that the alternative is becoming the more viable choice for the 21st century? This is merely a thought in the wake of the passing of one of my favourite MC’s, one that would be a fine legacy for a true legend and innovator.

However, none of this is getting the review done is it? It’s a shame that this album under performs as Nocando, aka James McCall, displays considerable lyrical skill evidently honed through his years on the Los Angeles battle circuit. Adopting a smooth flow similar to that of Aesop Rock and Andre 3000, two bonafide alternative legends, the lyrics are sharp and, for the most part, critical of the party lifestyle that other MCs feel compelled to link themselves to and referring to his previous job as busboy on “Head Static”, or musing on the merits and pitfalls of drink driving on a typical night in L.A in “DSD2”. The influence and practice of battle rap has resulted in an ability to flow rapidly and left him with a healthy vocabulary of insults to fling at, among others, Chris Brown, Sean Kingston and David Hasslehoff.

The beats are often the problem with what may be otherwise excellent tracks, “Never Lie” for example is a synth based boom-bap beat that never develops into anything catchy and doesn’t complement the concentrated and often venomous style of delivery from Nocando, and this is repeated on “Exploits and Glitches” where an excellent rap that includes the line
“and then I missed my bus, and that’s why I’m late to work”
is set to a scuzzy, synthy nothing-beat and a dull call-and-response hook. A lot of songs on the album could have benefited from a dose of the fun factor and listening the album as a whole becomes a wearisome affair towards the end, and that’s not to say that there isn’t a place for Nocando’s occasionally bleak perspective on his lovelife on “Flightrisk” and “Skankophelia” but the beats do little to alleviate the despair or leaden tempo.

Perhaps realising this, Nocando has topped and tailed the album with, respectively, a club banger-style party track and an aggressive bravado burst about carrying a knife in his “Front Left Pocket”. These two are so remarkably different from the rest of “Jimmy the Lock” as to feel shoehorned but, perversely, these were actually my favourite two. Opening with the statement
“I write songs about myself all the time”
, “Head Static” contains some great self-conscious verses and lines, backed up by a deep, bass-led beat and the kind of hook that begs to sung at the top of your voice. The latter track “Front Left Pocket” doesn’t suit the rest of the album at all but the up-tempo, bouncy instrumental does allow Nocando to rap at a faster pace and he does this extremely well in a manner that makes you wish there were more tracks of this kind throughout the album.

Overall, then “Jimmy the Lock” sounds messy and, as a result, underwhelming. The decision to craft a scuzzy, slow paced and overly serious and aggressive album was a big mistake in my view and makes it a tedious, unrewarding listen. The fact that the two tracks that deviate from this template are by far the best testifies to the fact that Nocando has huge potential but is stymied by production choices along the way. I’d love to hear whether Nocando continues in this mould on the next album, which I argue does him no favours (even detracting from his natural ability) or tweaks the production style to the mutual benefit of all.

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