Slang plays a big role in hip hop’s popularity. It keeps the genre regionally-divided, while at the same time helps maintain unity. At times it keeps the music current, while other times it brings it back to its roots. It makes sense to the listeners, and confuses the fuck out of outsiders who can’t quite fathom how hot and cool could possibly have similar meanings.
In some cases, though, it can confuse the fuck out of the listeners as well, but not to the point that it turns ‘em away. Camp Lo’s ’97 debut Uptown Saturday Night is such an example — drenched in outdated Blaxploitation-era terminology (you wouldn’t call another dude “sweet daddy” nowadays without a “no homo” before and after), Sonny Cheeba’s and Geechi Suede’s lyrics rode perfectly over Ski’s smoothed-out, funk and soul sample-heavy production. Its cult-classic status has brought much praise to the Lo-ah, by hip hop nerds and bloggers (which have become one in the same) everywhere. [Guilty as charged, here’s ML’s Camp Lo praise. And you’ll be pleased to know that “Coolie High” has found it’s way back to YouTube.]
10 years since Uptown Saturday Night — we’ll ignore ’02 Let’s Do It Again, most everyone else did — Camp Lo returns with Black Hollywood. As noted in our post linked above from earlier in the year, Ski was originally supposed to produce an entire EP for Camp Lo due out in August called Another Heist; but, instead, we get a full-length Camp Lo album, released a month earlier, and still produced entirely by Ski. Furthermore, the first single from the aforementioned EP, “Ticket For 2″, is not included on Black Hollywood — could this mean multiple Camp Lo releases in ’07? Did Christmas come early this year?
Though painfully short at only 12 tracks (and 35 minutes) long, Black Hollywood does a great job of showcasing the chemistry between Camp Lo and Ski, which may have been on hiatus for a while but clearly never went away. Cheeba and Suede sound like their old selves on songs like the relaxed “Soul Fever” and the title track, which features a humming vocal sample and some triumphant-sounding horns. I don’t like to compare artists’ new works to their old works (despite the fact that I do it quite often), but the title track is reminiscent of Uptown‘s classic single “Luchini”, while “Soul Fever” plays like a funkier version of “Coolie High”. While some may view the similarities between Camp Lo’s old and new music as a point of criticism, I personally respect their ability to maintain their signature sound, especially considering how little material the duo has actually released (and how often others have changed for the worst).
However, Camp Lo does stray away from the formula at times throughout Black Hollywood. The chorus-less, reggae-tinged “Ganja Lounge” is a nice example of them switching up their sound for the better. They also show an increase in attitude on more hard-hitting tracks like “82 Afros” (which features a surprisingly-nice verse from Ski himself) and “Posse From The Bronx” (which is a respectable head-nod to the legendary BDP’s “My Philosophy”), yet are able to put aside the over-the-top slang in exchange for a message in the closer “Sweet Claudine”.
The only real “dud” on Black Hollywood is “Material”, a track about video girls which doesn’t really accomplish anything other than acknowledge their existence — not to mention, when’s the last time Camp Lo has even made a music video? Ski’s production, equally focused in old-school hip hop as much as funk and soul music, rarely misses the mark as well — although “Pushahoe” uses the same Bob James sample that has had its welcome worn out for years now, it still sounds good. The same cannot be said, however, for “Money Clap”, which tries to sound minimalistic but comes out too choppy.
Though Black Hollywood, for the most part, delivers the goods musically, it’s a bit aggravating that one could listen to the whole album on a car ride back and forth to the supermarket (I’m exaggerating, but not by much). Don’t get me wrong — I’m all in favor of quality over quantity, but, seriously though, 35 minutes is all we can get? Aside from all that, in a year that most would agree has seen few quality hip hop releases (and most would disagree as to which releases qualify for that “few”), the return of Camp Lo is like a breath of fresh air. Next time, let’s hope they avoid the 5-year spread, and give us a little more to listen to.
Download: Camp Lo – “Black Hollywood”
Download: Camp Lo – “82 Afros” featuring Ski