Willy Northpole - Tha Connect

Posted June 24, 2009

For a music supposedly all about where you’re from, hip-hop doesn’t give us many options....

Tha Connect Album Review

For a music supposedly all about where you’re from, hip-hop doesn’t give us many options. If you live in New York, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago or L.A., congratulations, you can turn on BET anytime and watch a rapper represent your city. But if you happen to live in, I don’t know, the rest of the f**king country, you’re out of luck. The fact that Washington D.C., a city with a majority black population, doesn’t have a single major national rapper is absurd (though Wale’s working on it). The same goes for Boston, and Philly, and San Diego, and Baltimore and Denver – I could go on for days. Oh, and I haven’t even gotten to the entire Southwest. What, you don’t think they make hip-hop in the desert?

Willy Northpole is out to change all that. Hailing from the almost never hailed city of Phoenix, Arizona, Willy is on a musical mission to put his region on the map with his debut album Tha Connect. After a criminal past that included some prison time, Willy eventually decided to make music his life, almost signing with G-Unit before eventually landing with the Disturbing the Peace family (check out The Story for the full rundown). So, does Tha Connect deliver enough dope to elevate Phoenix into a hip-hop metropolis? In a word, no. But it does establish Willy as the Southwest’s best chance to get some national attention, and on that level alone it’s a success.

We might as well start with Tha Connect’s opening track, the aptly titled Intro. Taking a page out of his mentor Ludacris’ playbook, Willy opens the album with a hookless joint filled with nothing but wall to wall rhymes. On the plus side Willy’s delivery is almost flawless; he hits every line hard without ever sounding strained, a technique that’s far more difficult than it sounds. But unfortunately, instead of the desired “oh s**t, he said what!?’ effect, Willy’s punchlines tend to produce more of a “wait, he said what?” For instance, “I’m like a deer when I see these queers comin, my talents start runnin.” Um…what? I understand that “deer” and “queer” rhyme, but other than that it’s a horrible line – especially considering that deer infamously freeze under pressure/headlights. Now I’ll admit that’s a pretty small line to pick apart, so how about this: “the ’96 Biggie just hopped out a coffin, the ’95 Pac just rose from the dark.” I’m all for confidence and swagger, but you can’t spit a line like that, you just can’t. We wouldn’t let a high school baller call himself the next Jordan, and we shouldn’t look the other way while a rapper who hasn’t even released an album calls himself the reincarnation of both Biggie and Pac. Comparisons like that you have to earn.

That was a lot of time to spend on an intro track, but in many ways it helps explain the album as a whole. If Tha Connect truly were a drug supplier it would be an unreliable one, one minute delivering some of the purest product you’ve ever seen, the next packaging up baby powder. Just take the album’s lead single Hood Dreamer, an enjoyable but ultimately formulaic track featuring Willy’s steady flow and a chorus from B.o.B, who oddly sounds like Sean Kingston at times. (Let’s end the comparisons here: Biggie’s “hustler to rap star” track was Juicy. Willy’s is Hood Dreamer. Case closed.) Or take the album’s premier ladies track #1 Side Chick, a song that Willy rescues from cliché with some top of the line story telling skills. Where was this lyricism on Hood Dreamer?

If I sound frustrated it’s only because Willy obviously has the talent and drive to produce a better album than this, giving Tha Connect a vague feeling of disappointment. When Willy delivers, like he does on Ghetto Tour Guide, he’s one of the best young rappers in the game, but just tracks later we get the forgettable Feelin Alright, a cut that could have been a new west-coast classic. And as a man who’s covered in ink I was stoked to hear the banger Body Marked Up, but it’s disappointingly only barely about tattoos. So where does that leave Phoenix? Well, it leaves them with hope. Hope that someday soon Willy Northpole will put together an album worthy of his skill, an album that will do for the Southwest what Too $hort did for Oakland and what Nelly did for St. Louis. Unfortunately, that day is not today.

DJBooth Rating - 3 Spins

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Posted June 24, 2009
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