Colin Munroe - Colin Munroe Is The Unsung Hero

Posted January 13, 2009
Tags: Colin Munroe,

What is hip-hop? It’s not a trick question, you really should be able to answer it. Go ahead....

Colin Munroe Is The Unsung Hero Album Review

What is hip-hop? It’s not a trick question, you really should be able to answer it. Go ahead. What’s the matter, not as easy as you thought? Don’t feel bad, I write for a hip-hop site and when it comes down to it - I mean really comes down to it - I can’t define hip-hop. It’s a culture, that’s true, but culture is a very malleable thing. It’s rhythmic speech over a beat, but that doesn’t even come close. And yet, even though I couldn’t exactly tell you what hip-hop is, I can tell you what it’s not. Taylor Swift, for example, is not hip-hop, unless she does a duet with Young Jeezy. (And if she does I want royalties.) With artists like Kanye, Mos Def and Andre 3000 blurring the lines between rap, rock, and...whatever Andre’s music is, what it means to be a hip-hop artist in 2009 is no simple matter.

And we haven’t even gotten to Colin Munroe yet. First off, while some people may wish it didn’t matter anymore, it does: Colin Munroe’s a white boy who grew up attending performing art schools in Canada. He’s definitely not hip-hop, right? And yet, Munroe first caught the public’s attention for I Want Those Flashing Lights, a captivatingly honest remix of Mr. West’s Flashing Lights. Now the recent release of his mixtape, Colin Munroe Is The Unsung Hero, a mixtape that contains verses from nearly every underground rapper alive, is creating a slowly simmering buzz. Does that make Unsung Hero hip-hop? Honestly, I have no f**king idea, and maybe that’s a good thing.

Unsung Hero leads with the relentlessly upbeat Will I Stay Remix, a song whose bouncing percussion and bright harmonies are at first blush pure pop. That’s until Wale jumps on the mic for a playful verse, followed closely by contributions from super-producer/singer Dallas Austin. It’s a 21st century update of 80’s punkers The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go, only where The Clash snarled Munroe only smiles. If Stay were the only song on Unsung Hero it’d be easy to peg Munroe as disposable pop, but then you’d have to ignore tracks like Piano Lessons. Produced by Jay Dilla protégé Black Milk, Piano Lessons is a somberly paced track built on Munroe’s everyman voice and a chorus comprised of the decidedly un-swagger, “Don’t bet on me, I’m a long shot.” By the time Brooklyn’s finest rapper, Joell Ortiz jumps aboard for a typically dope verse we feel like we’re beginning to get a grip on Munroe’s music: Take a pop foundation, add some electronic production and a guest rapper, and bingo, you’ve got a Colin Munroe song.

After a full listen to Unsung Hero that once firm grip on Munroe’s style evaporates. Maybe it's Fever, a hypnotically dark track that’s undeniably dope despite containing nary a rhyme, that does it. Or maybe it's Sunday Bloody Sunday, an acoustic cover of U2’s famous protest song, that complicates matters. How could Bloody Sunday’s electro-lullaby bluegrass sound be on the same mixtape as Will I Stay? (And yes, I know “electro-lullaby bluegrass isn’t a real term, but it’s the best I could do.) Actually, Sunday’s far from the least “hip-hop” song on Unsung Hero, that honor would go to Who Killed Davey Moore, a remix of a Bob Dylan song. Maybe you can name another mixtape that features a Dylan remix and a verse from MIMS (who proves he’s still alive on What The Young Man Says), but I can’t. It’s easy to be different just for different’s sake, but Munroe musical wanderings all seem to have a purpose, even if that purpose remains unnamed.

That’s not to say that any admiration of Munroe’s sonic bravery should completely overshadow his musical immaturity. Just take the retro One More Chance, a track that tries to revive the innocent energy of 60’s soul. It’s decent, but it’s shallow compared to the similar work of Raphael Saadiq, who’s had decades to perfect his craft. Similarly, Last Cause is the kind of quasi-romantic tune that would easily win any high school talent show in the country, but isn’t anywhere near as good as the recent genre-bending and relationship-centric work of 808s and Heartbreak. Still, if Munroe’s making music as good as Cannonball at such a young age, the sky’s the limit. All that means that while I can’t predict what Munroe’s upcoming debut album, Don’t Think Less Of Me, will sound like, I can say that it will be a page in hip-hop’s latest chapter. If it’s hip-hop at all.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted January 13, 2009
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