Wandering Minstrel

Everlast didn't start with much of a hardcore following this time; the challenge for him, as for so many rappers, was how to survive past the inevitable waning of that following— it's called hitting 30, or maybe 25. Whitey Ford Sings the Blues isn't especially great as hip-hop: you know you're in trouble when your most booming track is called "Praise the Lord." It isn't even that great as Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson, since Everlast's lyrics don't cut very deep and he's far too monochromatic a vocalist. But as middle-of-the-road pop it's homesteading barely settled territory. Hip-hop is too revolutionary not to evolve its own form of sappy singer-songwriter confessionalism. This is a start. So, verbal groaners and occasional aural clichés aside, there's a fascination to cuts like "Painkillers," where the ordinary person Everlast imagines descending into oblivion is himself. Or the confidently slow-paced, hiphop- derived chord changes underpinning the sermonized parts of "Today (Watch Me Shine)," or the folding in of archetypes that makes him murmur, during "Death Comes Callin'," "I think I hear a steam whistle/Lord, when my train gonna come?"

Too bad black artists don't receive the same validation for their experiments. When I groove on "Ends," I'm just exercising ears trained by Public Enemy's roundly dismissed "He Got Game," autumnal hip-hop at its finest. And for sentiment, what about P.M. Dawn, whose Dearest Christian, I'm So Very Sorry for Bringing You Here. Love, Dad is absolutely drenched emotionally and has a great potential single, "Art Deco Halos"? Finally, I must mention the Coup's "Me and Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night," which is a story song worthy of Dylan, or at least Dan Bern. Affirmative action works both ways: for the near future, white rappers who are at least marginally qualified are going to get a stronger hearing than their relative talents deserve. That isn't a slap at Everlast, who I bet would make a similar argument for the merits of his buddy Divine Styler. It's just what it's like.

Homesteading hip-hop across the great divide
Sam Mack/ Retna
Homesteading hip-hop across the great divide


Whitey Ford Sings the Blues
Tommy Boy

Everlast plays Roseland February 19.

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