Mark Ronson Presents Rhymefest: Man in the Mirror

Posted January 10, 2008
Tags: Rhymefest,

Apparently there’s been some confusion on the matter, so before we go on let me clear one...

Rhymefest & Mark Ronson Present: Man in the Mirror Album Review

Apparently there’s been some confusion on the matter, so before we go on let me clear one thing up; Rhymefest is not Kanye West. Any confusion is understandable, they do have a lot in common: they co-wrote the Grammy-award winning smash Jesus Walks, both have a similar party-and-politics-for-the-common-man rhyme style, and both call Chicago home. But don’t get them twisted, Rhymefest is very much his own man. First, Kanye’s always had his feet on the ground and his head in diamond-studded clouds, while Fest is firmly rooted in the everyday. Second, Fest has yet to throw a tantrum at an award show; after being denied the Scribble Jam freestyle championship (despite beating Eminem) he took it like a man and vowed to work even harder. Imagine that. Oh, and Kanye’s never devoted an entire album to Michael Jackson, unlike Fest who's officially titled his Mark Ronson Presents Rhymefest: The Man in the Mirror.

Believe it or not there was once a time when Michael Jackson was unquestionably the greatest pop musician on the planet, as opposed to now, when he’s widely regarded as an albino pedophile. So when Rhymefest declares Jackson is his role-model we can safely assume he’s talking about the old-school Mike. Mr. Jackson’s, um, eccentricities aside, constructing an album around MJ is an absolutely genius concept. By remixing the King of Pop’s catalog, Fest has given himself some truly classic production elements to rhyme over. Think of it like the Beatles and Jay-Z mash-up The Grey Album, only with less Paul McCartney and more Tito and Jermaine.

Quick side note: loyal readers know I hate skits, so believe me when I say the skits on Man in the Mirror are so good they’re worth the price of admission alone. Throughout the album, interviews and studio bootlegs are cut and pasted so it sounds like Fest and MJ are in the studio together, resulting in some truly hilarious moments. Family Reunion, featuring Fest freestyling over a Jackson 5 harmony session, had me laughing so hard I wet myself…I mean, almost wet myself.

Now for the music. Fest passed up Kanye’s G.O.O.D. label to sign with Mark Ronson, the producer behind Amy Winehouse’s hip-hop soul sound, and on Man in the Mirror Ronson again shows his inter-generational touch by deftly grafting hip-hop’s edge onto MJ’s smooth falsetto style. Can’t Make It uses a 10-piece soul band sound that maintains a breakdanceable (yes, I just invented that word) percussion style. More importantly, Fest shows any newcomers that he’s undeniably his own MC, declaring at parts that “I ain’t Phonte, Common or Kanye” and “if this was jeopardy, the answer would be me, the question would be who is hard?” The man clearly possesses an endless intelligence, but he has enough skill to not feel the need to beat you over the head with his cleverness. Never Say Goodbye continues the good-times-and-politics tip with a characteristically dense Talib Kweli verse and Fest absolutely breaking down the fronting epidemic among hustling rappers: “how you yap about it, glorify and brag about it, I’d have thought you’d be so rich you wouldn’t have to rap about it.” It’s easy to compare him to Kanye, and I’ve clearly fallen into the trap, but it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that Rhymefest’s rhyme style influenced Kanye as much, if not more, than the other way around.

Certain elements of Man in the Mirror are pure comedy, and Fest and Ronson know it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t enough dope tracks to build some serious buzz for his upcoming full-length album El Che (his real name is Che. Seriously. No wonder he’s revolutionary). No Sunshine busts out of the box with a riding beat that Fest hits dead on with a rapid-fire flow, Foolin’ Around is a entertaining tribute to the intricacies of cheating, and All That I’ve Got Is You is a fearlessly spiritual track featuring a surprisingly personal verse from Ghostface and a gospel chorus from Mary J. Blige. Man in the Mirror rides the fine line between an album and a mixtape (he calls it a "dedication album”), but either way it’s a refreshingly creative breath of fresh air in the often stale rap game. Will Rhymefest ever be a superstar? Probably not, but he’s got a real shot at earning some real respect from hip-hop heads from coast to coast. At the least he won't be mistaken for Kanye anymore. Hey, it’s a start.

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted January 10, 2008
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