The genesis of Mac Lethal's new album reads like a classic art-vs.-commerce struggle. After years of annihilating the competition at Scribble Jam, the Kansas City-based MC (whose real name is David McCleary Sheldon) finally won his big break when he was signed to Rhymesayers in 2005. His mother had died the previous year, and he turned in an album full of poignant, angry songs titled 11:11 (referencing the time of day when you make a wish). But Rhymesayers didn't go for it, and so Lethal crafted an entirely new album full of more saleable frat-rap. It's still called 11:11, but has almost nothing in common with the much-anticipated original effort.
Which isn't to say it's not worthwhile. Lethal's intense focus recalls Eminem, and he thankfully rejects sometime-tour mate Sage Francis's political posturing and pointlessly verbose wordplay. The album is bookended by a pair of heartfelt tracks, "Backward" and "Sunstorm," the latter a gentle ode to his hometown: "The echo of silence whispers from the mouth of the river to say, 'Yeah, this city could be great one day, but the first step is getting out of our own way.'"
If the entire effort was this sincere, we'd have a classic, but instead we get aggressive, pop-culture-heavy pseudo-anthems like "Pound That Beer" (seriously) and "Jihad!" Lethal would have you believe he rewrote the album to help himself move on from his mother's death, and perhaps this is true. But listeners would likely have benefited more from his first draft, and hopefully we will someday get to hear it.