Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Music May: Ultimate Victory

Ultimate Victory
  • Artist: Chamillionaire
  • Label: Universal / Chamilitary
  • Genre: Hip-hop/Rap
  • Producers: various
  • Release: 18 September 2007
  • Formats: CD, Digital
I guess we can call this a blast from the past: "They see me rollin', they hatin'".  This immortal line comes to us from "Ridin'", a 2005 single from Houston-based rapper Chamillionaire.  Despite its use in commercials and movie trailers, etc., to depict flashy rides and somesuch, the song itself hides a message of real worth for those of you willing to listen to the whole thing. Something along the lines of, "You want to arrest me because of racial profiling, but you can't because I'm not breaking the law".  This guy is deep, either by the (admittedly shallow) standards of his genre or otherwise.  Still, while "Ridin'" went to number 1 on Billboard, he never got anything else above the top 20 during his whole career.  But somehow, I still found out about his sophomore album, 2007's Ultimate Victory, and it got me psyched up to a degree.

The first thing I'd like to bring up is that the entire album lacks even one instance of strong language.  Legend has it that Chamillionaire, success of "Ridin'" notwithstanding, was dismayed to hear that fans were singing along to the song, and the instances of the N-word therein. [citation needed]  As someone who's been wary and even disgusted about the trend towards permissiveness of profanity in popular culture (seriously, look within any one medium and you'll see the trend), this deserves a major tip of the hat.  And this is a long album, too; for him to keep up that self-censorship for seventy-nine minutes (not including the iTunes or Best Buy bonus tracks!) is even more amazing.  This being the case, I'll eschew detailed analyses on all but handful of songs.

One of the album's standout tracks is the opener "The Morning News", which frankly isn't saying much since we just started.  This being a song that derives its lines from the headlines, naturally some of the content has become dated, such as referencing the feud between Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell.  But it's worth it to hear Chamillionaire challenge the ambiguously racist talking heads in the vein of Bill O'Reilly ("Get on the TV and get at me / I'mma get on the CD and get at you") or the lyrically deficient "snap music" which clogged the top 40's arteries over the past couple of years.  Later on, "The Evening News" retreads much of the same territory with even more dated references, to Osama bin Laden and Barack Obama (whom Chamillionaire assumed would never become President.  Guess who I'm talking about.)

The next track, "Hip-Hop Police", is the album's biggest hit, if you can call peaking below #100 a "hit", and why not?  This song plays out as a dialogue between a cop and a convict, both played by Chamillionaire, and guest Slick Rick later doing the same.  The second verse is notable for its clever references to famous rap albums and personalities.  In a similar vein is track #5, "Industry Groupie".  First, the bad news.  This track was produced by J.R. Rotem, who is guilty of some of the most inappropriate sampling since the heyday of Puff Daddy.  Seriously, I will still never forgive him for Jason Derulo's "Whatcha Say", although to be fair the singer shares the blame too.  Also his audio watermarks are the most annoying thing to come out of South Africa apart from vuvuzelas.  But I will forgive him this time for three reasons: One, this time around, he sampled Europe's "The Final Countdown".  Awesome.  Two, Chamillionaire backs it up with the lyrics, not only with clever references, but an actual concept.  What if the girls different rappers are bragging about in their songs are in fact the same person, who is trying to go steady with Chamillionaire in defiance of her past exploits?  And three, guess what other song JR produced for this album?  "Hip Hop Police", with nary a sample or audio watermark to be heard. I think we're making progress.

One thing that surprises me about this album's length is that unlike its contemporaries, the tracklist isn't padded out with too many "skits" or non-song tracks.  You've got one which is three minutes long, and thus easy to mistake as an actual song.  Then again, it's three minutes of some old friend of Chamillionaire's complaining to the man about not lending him money despite his titular millions, and sweating the lesser man to pay up on his loans.  It's hard for the listener to put up with, but I will give it credit for making me think about the responsibilities the 1% must own up to.  Plus, the content foreshadows the next three tracks, "The Bill Collecta", "Ultimate Vacation", and "Come Back to the Streets".  Frustratingly, the skit makes an encore at the tail end of the last of those three.  The other skit, "Stuck in the Ghetto", is actually a one-and-a-half minute song about the tough life of the underemployed, and surprisingly I actually wish it had been drawn out a little more.

Collectively, the worst aspects of this album are the guest verses.  With the exception of Slick Rick in "Hip-Hop Police", Chamillionaire raps circles around all his guests, in terms of both quality and quantity.  Sometimes they manage to undercut the intention of the song.  For starters, many of them managed to sneak in a (censored) swear here and there.  Did they even get the memo?  But the worst example of such is in "You Must Be Crazy": In his guest verse, Famous manages to get away with the simply awful line "Up and coming like dicks, no homo".  Okay, first: how'd you sneak that one past the censors (read: Chamillionaire)!?  Second, by saying "no homo" and distancing the rest of your comment from homosexual connotations, he is perpetuating an association of homosexuality as a bad thing.  Having interpreted this as such, I am morally opposed to the use of the phrase "no homo".  (Unless TeamFourStar does it. ^_^)

Track Listing:
1) "The Morning News" (Producer: Kane Beatz): 5 out of 5
2) "Hip Hop Police" feat. Slick Rick (Producer: J.R. Rotem): 5 out of 5
3) "Standing Ovation" (Producer: Kane Beatz): 3 out of 5
4) "Won't Let You Down" feat. K.C. (Producer: Kane Beatz): 2 out of 5
5) "Industry Groupie" (Producer: J.R. Rotem): 5 out of 5
6) "Pimp Mode" feat. Bun B (Producer: Happy Perez): 2 out of 5
7) "Rock Star" feat. Lil' Wayne (Producer: The Beat Bullies): 1 out of 5
8) "Skit": 2 out of 5
9) "The Bill Collecta" feat. Krayzie Bone (Producer: Play-n-Skillz): 3 out of 5
10) "The Ultimate Vacation" (Producer: The Beat Bullies): 4 out of 5
11) "Come Back to the Streets" (Producer: The Runners): 2 out of 5
12) "I Think I Love You" (Producer: The Beat Bullies): 4 out of 5
13) "The Evening News" (Producer: Kane Beatz) 4 out of 5
14) "Welcome to the South" feat. Pimp C (Producer: Kane Beatz): 3 out of 5
15) "You Must Be Crazy" feat. Famous (Producer: Jomeezius The Genius): 2 out of 5
16) "We Breakin Up" (Producer: CHOPS): 4 out of 5
17) "Skit: Stuck in the Ghetto" feat. Tony Henry: 4 out of 5
18) "Rocky Road" feat. Devin the Dude (Producer: Happy Perez): 5 out of 5
19) "The Ultimate Victory" (Producer: Happy Perez): 5 out of 5.

Chamillionaire is refreshingly varied in the subject matter he raps about.  Sure you've got your typical bragging songs, but they're balanced out by such topics as current events, the struggle to survive financially, and racial profiling.  Given the album's relatively monstrous length, I'd understand and indeed prefer it if he chose to leave out some of the filler tracks we got on the final product, in doing so taking away the lower end of the spectrum and forcing me to give it a higher rating, you crafty charlatan.  Still, the fact that we have such gems as "Hip Hop Police" and "The Morning News" absolves most of what minor sins Ultimate Victory commits.  And heck, even some of the lesser tracks have some witty lines ("Ultimate Vacation") and/or a pleasing beat ("Pimp Mode"), which only helps Chamillionaire's position of being head and shoulders above the competition.

The Call: 90% (A-)