By Reed Fischer
By Anna Gulbrandsen
By Jeff Gage
By Stacy Schwartz
By Natalie Gallagher
By Erik Thompson
By Jeff Gage
By Loren Green
Cool Cee Brown
Are the archetypes of the gangsta and the soulman mutually exclusive? Can an artist who claims to pimp words and cook musical dope find common ground between callous blaxploitation and wrenching compassion? Excluding another Cee (Lo, of course), if any of that's possible, Cool Cee Brown's a good candidate to do it. Coming out of our nation's capital with a style and sound just as beautiful and contradictory as our Constitution, CCB mixes lyrical beatdowns with coos and croons; but in the end, it's nothing more complex than his talent that makes Magnificent Bastard a hybrid success rather than a failed genre exercise.
The sound of the album, as fitting CCB's varying thematic elements, varies wildly from boom bap anthems to reggae-styles to go-go machine gun drums (and sometimes all in the same song). Combining an ear for quality with an innate funkiness, at his best CCB straddles the line between cleverness and poignancy, as on the album closer (addressing an old friend): I went away to school.../ Four years later graduated and came back/ You looking at me crazy like, 'You ain't the same cat'/ I'm looking at you crazy like, 'You still the same cat.' And while a few of the slow jams are limp like the worst Mos Def noodlings, there's enough heat and passion (along with a stellar guest list) to overlook the misfires.
Besides the various mash-ups going down, Magnificent Bastard succeeds by following in the grand tradition of "The Message," Kool G. Rap, and Illmatic—by being both inside and (more importantly) outside his vivid tales of block life and love lost and found. If rap is still the Black CNN, then he's more reporter than newsmaker, deftly avoiding what I'll call "50 Cent syndrome," or the "realness" baloney that plagues mainstream rap at present. Observing, participating, and ultimately pontificating on the complexities of life in the original Chocolate City—now that's a picture worth framing.
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