We’ve all been there. You wake up horny and decided you’re going to do something about your “situation.” You try the nice guy routine, end up as some girl’s best friend and swear you’ll never get played again. So you flip into mack mode and start pulling girls so freaky you have to start downing Viagra and Red Bull. Predictably, all that bedroom action leaves you with a bad STD, a baby on the way and plenty of drama, all for the love of the booty. So when you end up mysteriously dead in your Harlem apartment, there’s no shortage of suspects. You know, the usual story.
Actually, that’s only a typical story for one man, and his name is 88-Keys. Keys is a member of that select group of hip-hop producers you know by beat, but not my name. Or I should say was a member. Keys has produced tracks for everyone from Mos Def to Macy Gray but is getting his hands on a mic instead of only a soundboard with his debut album The Death Of Adam. While some (dumb) writers will call Adam a concept album, it’d be more accurate to call it a narrative album, a collection of tracks that tell the tragic story of a man killed by that most deadly force—women. Although Keys often struggles to find his own voice, often electing instead to mimic his mentor Kanye, Adam is ultimately an impressively creative work that puts Keys squarely on the “one to watch out for” list.
If Adam were a movie, and it’s certainly sonically cinematic, it’d be a dark comedy; like a cross between Knocked Up, 8 Mile and the Kardashian sex tape. Adam’s opening scene is the joyfully obscene "Morning Wood," a track that somehow is simultaneously a meditation on erections and the theme song to a 70’s sitcom. More than just funny, it’s a sign that Keys isn’t afraid to say anything, and use any musical style to say it. In that same musical lineage is "Stay Up" (notice a common theme?). Here Keys’ production prowess is on full display, expertly blending muted harmonies, soul samples and jazz horns into a cohesive whole. Most notably the record's lyrics come courtesy of Kanye West, who drops his usual assortment of rewind-worthy lines like “try imagin, somethin passionate, between you, Cassie and Kim Kardashian.” Keys makes only minor vocal appearances on "Stay Up," but a great beat and an Auto-Tune free Kanye is always a recipe for success. From the soulful "Close Call" featuring Little Brother to the hilariously upbeat "The Burning Bush" with the always insane Redman, you won’t hear anything like The Death of Adam, and I don’t get to write that often.
The Death of Adam’s strengths are also its weaknesses. Kanye executive produced the album, and while it’s never a bad idea to solicit West’s golden touch, it’s hard to figure out where Kanye ends and 88-Keys begins. Take "Round 2," an everyman joint that feels the pain of every man who has ever had to perform again, and again, and again. "Round 2"’s production is built around high-pitched vocal samples, soaring string arrangements and slowly banging production, all hallmarks of a Kanye track. Vocally, Keys adopts almost the exact same cadence West uses on "Spaceship" (listen to the two back to back and tell me I’m wrong). It’s a similar story on "Nice Guys Finish Last," a cut that finds Keys alternating between his gentlemen persona and true intentions with lines like “Go the extra mile, open the door for her, that’s extra points all on your scoreboard.” It’s funny, clever, and unavoidably reminiscent of a Kanye line.
That’s not to say that Adam is a rip-off Kanye album, far from it. Keys is simply still a relative newcomer to the rhyme game, and like all freshman it’s going to take some time for him to solidify a distinct rhyme style. In fact, Keys employs musical influences Kanye never would, starting with "The Friends Zone," a hypnotic track run by indie-rock band Shitake Monkey. On the same note, "Dirty Peaches" is an R&B oriented slow jam with gripping vocals from J Davey, and "M.I.L.F." has Bilal taking some unexpectedly comedic turns.
Ultimately, The Death Of Adam is the work of a talented artist just beginning to understand the limits of his capabilities. So who killed Adam? Hopefully, we’ll find out the answer from 88-Keys soon.