Listening to rap, hip-hop, call it what you will, is like clearing out a wardrobe. Out go the holed socks, the braggadocio, the threadbare underpants, the violence, the once-fashionable shirts, the relentless swearing, the Christmas jumpers, the misogyny, the kipper ties, and the rampant capitalism. Just when you're about to tire of throwing all the crap out, there's the prize, sitting right at the back of the wardrobe and desperately looking for an entrance to Narnia: head-nodding beats and ingenious hooks.
Here's one such find. Classic Material Vol.1 by CM (the cheeky scamp) is a schizophrenic album. Half of it is creamy soul served in a hip-hop tub; the other half is a gentle reminder that music didn't begin in 1920, '55, '68 or '85 but may actually have existed before electricity became widespread.
If CM were better known, Who I Am would be a classic album track, the type of song that wouldn't get released as a single but would be acknowledged by fans as his best work. It's got that indefinable something that conveys emotion, whether it be the incisive strings and woodwinds, the heartfelt lyrics, the production, or the feeling that Who I Am, along with the companion piece All Or Nothing, sees CM shrugging off expectations and promoting a manifesto that there's more to life than seeing how many bullets a rapper can stop on the way to having a music career. That dread phrase, "taking it to a different level", applies here; I love the soul grooves but it's the album's orchestral/acoustic tracks that provide intimacy. True needs just a piano hook, a violin and a beat to kidnap my ears, though the enticement is provided by that delicious hip-hop tradition of introducing the hook and then letting you salivate for a bit before dropping the beat. Worse than crack, let me tell you.
But don't knock the grooves - Confidence slurs and slips deliciously before locking onto your hips and declaring, "This ain't cockiness, this is called confidence." Reintro is hypnotic. Doing The Damn Thing reveals a gorgeous piano intro and loop that slaps into a clap so well-timed that you can't get the Damn Thing out of your head. Grown and Sexy sees CM turn into Barry White - the music's fine but Ira Gershwin had nothing to do with the subtle-as-a-hammer lyrics.
Classic Material Vol. 1 is guilty of some of the sins I mentioned earlier, but it's still a pleasurable listen; some of the tracks are irresistible. My only quibble is that I'd like to see a few bridges and choruses for variety's sake and because I'm curious to see what CM can come up with. If CM's rapping continues to develop, becoming as open-minded and far-ranging as his musical taste, then the future looks bright for fans of well-crafted and likeable hip-hop.
CM aka Creative - Classic Material Vol. 1 (link to zipped album and separate mp3s)
Random Flow netlabel