By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
By Harley Oliver Brown
Ever have a bright idea, a 1000-watt bulb so blazin that it inevitably slides into the collective consciousness of pop culture? Even if the brainstorm was a somewhat obvious eventuality, it probably pissed you off more than a little when it publicly manifested. Like Flav once said about beats, you can't copyright no idea, man. But when others run off with your personal brain-children, it's hard not to wish you coulda raised them up yourself, dig?
There were a whole lotta black chil'ren reared on Prince and hiphopand though we individually tended to think we were the only ones eclectic enough to be there with both "Alexa de Paris" and "Marley Marl Scratch," as D'Angelo and the loosely knit Soulquarians crew make blatant, we're a nation of millions. If you were an '80s teen taking Prince's every rarely spoken word as gospel, you gobbled up The Hissing of Summer Lawnsand anything else his majesty would deign to recommend: Sly, Hendrix, Miles, Andreas Vollenweider. And the twain met as you anatomized hiphop record production notes for samples: not just JB, but shit like the Beatles' "Michelle" (mangled by Slick Rick on "The Show") and AC/DC's "Back in Black" (the ill metal crunch undergirding BDP's classic "Dope Beat").
Can't stand Limp Bizkit? Or Kid Rock, who Chris Rock once dissed as DMX (read: the black man) lite? You have us B-boy bohos to blame. We had a dream that one day little black boys and little white girls could strap on Stratocasters over tattered Rakim T-shirts, take Timberland-booted steps onstage at CBGB-like dives nationwide, and rock out over phat beats and freestyle emceeing. If not enough of us stepped up to that particular Pepsi challenge, and our cumulative concept seeped into the wrong minds, on our behalf, I apologize. But then there's Wyclef Jean.
There's some stuff to be sorry for on The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book, sho nuff. Clef is the kinda character you'd expect to juxtapose director George Lucas with Marxist philosopher Georg Lukács on a track simply since their names sound the same. So when he comes with "My destiny is to lead while y'all follow/This is showtime and I'm live at the Apollo" on a cut with the self-indicting title "Kenny Rogers-Pharoahe Monch Dub Plate," you eagerly anticipate Sandman Sims emerging from the wings with a cane. I'm a strong advocate of coloring outside the lines, but just 'cause certain things were never done before doesn't necessarily mean they're good to try.
Courtney Love once accused Trent Reznor of thinking he was Elvis; when it comes to ego, Clef clearly thinks he's an envelope-pushing hiphop Hendrix. Burning down houses from Tramps to MSG playin guitar with your teeth can gas you like that, and for all his bluster, the Fugee gets off some respectable fretwork on the Pink Floyd cover (he's sooo eclectic!) "Wish You Were Here." But the way he name-drops cats like Clapton and B.B. King at the tail end of "Something About Mary" (an ode to herb) makes it clear Clef's smokin something; his skills don't nearly evoke any of the guitar gods mentioned: "Yo Carlos Santana, thanks for the lessons, baby"? "Yo Steve Vai, I ain't forget you, man"? "What up Jimi HendrixI see you, baby"? Wyclef couldn't see Hendrix with telepathy, that's my word.
Off this record, Clef has been going on the record in various mags lately about his former romantic relationship with Lauryn Hill. He won't substantiate those pesky abuse rumors, but he's been sayin stuff like "I was like David Ruffin and Lauryn was Tammi Terrell" and "To this day, Lauryn can't look at me in my eyes. . . . When she is with that cat [her beau, Rohan Marley] and I show up, they start walking the opposite direction." And just in case your hiphop bible got lost in the mail, he reiterates on "Where Fugees At?": "Girls with their man screaming jai alai/Baby girl look in the opposite direction/'Cause my class is The Miseducation." The track, flavored with Godfather-like horns, is actually one of Ecleftic's bestbut c'mon, Clef. That ain't irie.
You want highlights? "911" with Mary J. Blige is a dreamy, soulful love testimonial. The Canibus disses on "However You Want It" could cause milk to stream from your nose from laughter; it's like that. And if you dig Clef's catchy single with WWF's The Rock, "It Doesn't Matter," you'll probably be into "Low Income," "Thug Angels," and "Hollywood to Hollywood," too. Wyclef's police brutality protestation, "Diallo," slightly disappoints, given how ripe that topic is for some hiphop commentary. Considering karmic law, Lauryn's upcoming "Amadou" will probably be 10 times more on point.
So while Eclefticain't wack, it's no carnival. It realizes the B-boy boho dream much better than caricaturist "hiphop metal" acts, but Clef served our interests much better last time at bat. Stickin in Earth, Wind and Fire on "Da Cypha" just 'cause he can ain't impressin nobody: The collaboration just makes the album even more spotty. If I were in high school, I wouldn't wanna hear this; I wouldn't know who EW&F were in the first place, and the song would just sound . . . old. All you paisley hiphop children, keep dreamin. Thought forces are invincible.