“You dialed Doc/Not Dial-a-Joke,” insists Redman, the self-anointed Funk Doctor, on his new long-long-player, Malpractice. His protests aside, the man known to his mom as Reggie Noble is in a select class of punch-line rappers, rivaled only by Rawkus-affiliated Mad Skills and that Slim Shady guy. But Redman’s true peers are from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. You see, while the hallowed days of the Algonquin Roundtable are now gone like so many one-liners in the wind, this Def Squad lieutenant would have made a fine addition. Issues of space and time aside, I can imagine Jersey City’s pride and joy hopping a PATH train to that Manhattan temple of wit and mixing it up with the best steel-trap minds in the room. After handing Dorothy Parker a slap on the tochis—following it with an encouraging “Cheer up, boo!”—Redman would throw his Tims up on the oak bar and trade bombass bons mots with any wannabe Robert Benchleys.
While a gaggle of fellow MCs have found their flow slowed by too many nights in with Mary Jane, Redman’s prodigious pot intake (of which he will never spare you any details) has had no adverse effects. Parker and Co. balanced their own creative output of fiction and poetry with the magazine and newspaper pieces that paid for their brandy, and Redman also walks the thin line between art and commerce, working at such a prolific rate that his own product becomes diluted in the process. And like the scribes of the Algonquin, Redman seems destined to be remembered for his aphorisms and quips, rather than any one piece of work.
The months leading up to the release of Malpractice saw Redman doling out album-stealing cameos on several compilations. His appearance on the Ruff Ryders’ Ryde or Die was one of the only breaks from that clique’s browbeating (when is this hip-hop’n’Ecstasy revolution gonna catch up with DMX?). On “2 Tears in a Bucket,” the Lox’s Sheek huffs and puffs, “Soon as I cop the nine, I pop the nine” and other truisms, but then Redman deflates the crotch grabbing with this sign-off: “Redman, nigga/Def Jam, nigga/Got ‘Fuck your momma’ on my sweatband, nigga.” Other stellar appearances followed on the Rawkus showcase, Lyricist Lounge 2, and DJ Clue’s Jay-Z-sponsored ice-fest, The Professional, Pt. 2. There was some palpable anticipation for Malpractice that wasn’t just kicked up by a street team.
With all his recent pinch hits coming off like home runs, it was reasonable to expect that Malpractice would be an out-of-the-park success. It peaks at track four. It’s fair to assume that most of the people are no longer looking for a compact, fluid, 12-song hip-hop album-as-statement-of-purpose. Gone are the days of Criminal Minded or Paid in Full, or even Illmatic. But at 23 tracks and 78 minutes, the next four-fifths of Malpractice is a lot like watching the camel cross the desert horizon in Lawrence of Arabia, if that were the whole movie. Yes, I laugh out loud at the skits and there are plenty of quotable zingers, and there’s even a Treach sighting, and yes, there is a program button on the CD player. But the length is only part of the problem. Redman eschews anything resembling subject matter (beyond Jersey City, a/k/a The Bricks, and weed). His albums are a perfect example of MC’ing as self-reflexive art—he declares as much on “Lick a Shot”: “Yo, yo dawg, I’m an MC, I don’t think how you rap stars’ll think.” But he is a star—one who appeals both to underground head-nodders and Barneys shoppers. And that dual appeal shows on the record. His old-school MC sensibilities clash with his need to make unit-shifting quotas, and it trips up the record. The trials of a Def Jam artiste.
To his credit, the album starts off like a goddamn masterpiece. For one glorious side, he gives a glimpse of what could have been. After the ubiquitous intro, Redman hears a bass and blasts his way through a D.O.C. rewrite on “Diggy Doc.” “Lick a Shot” keeps things nice and healthy, as Reggie offers to cook: “It’s Elmer Fudd with the shotty pump, who want duck?” and primes you for the next bullet. “Let’s Get Dirty” is playing in a car near you right now, and its Rockwilder-produced beat (can this guy please make a record with D’Angelo so we can get the updated Dirty Mind that we all need?) is a “Housequake” hand-me-down, aided by the throat-clearing cheers of DJ Kool. What could have easily been a by-the-numbers “I get money and blowjobs and you don’t” rap turns into a cherry bomb in the men’s-room toilet at the Player’s Ball. “If I gotta pay to get in the club/I’ma go pop the trunk and turn the street volume up to 10/I ain’t on the guest list/I ain’t V.I.P./I snuck in the exit,” he proclaims, arriving at the Tunnel with “a carload of bitches charged on Belvedere.” So while the most vociferous opposition to the lifestyle promoted by mainstream hip-hop’s rapitalists may come from the increasingly humorless underground, Redman subtly subverts the paradigm on his own terms.
Not to get all No Logo on that ass, or to make sweeping generalizations, but a big chunk of mainstream hip-hop is really just advertising. For what, I’m not exactly sure. Redman is something of a throwback to a time when rap was more of a self-contained, self-sustaining form—Glocks and Gucci were a bit farther down the totem pole than they are today, and being a Microphone Fiend was more important then being a real player. But like the rest of his Def Jam brethren, Reggie’s worked ardently to develop a brand-awareness: an easily encapsulated, nearly cartoonish identity. For instance: Jay-Z = Jigga the fashion-aware pimp, or DMX = the moody guy who barks. Redman’s niche is the most fun, I think. His brand: hip-hop’s class clown who you wouldn’t want to fuck with. If you’re gonna buy brand name, if you’re gonna buy big, buy Redman.