Every other week, Beats & Rhymes highlights a new and notable hip-hop, rap, DJ, or electronic record that embraces independent sensibilities.
Skipp Whitman: Skipp City (self-released, 11/1/10)
Skipp Whitman: “Famous”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Skipp_Whitman_Famous.mp3|titles=Skipp Whitman: “Famous”]
Rappers’ careers live and die on image. So when a rapper is born of middle-class artist parents in the swanky suburb of Brookline, Massachusetts, he’ll inevitably have to deal with being an anomaly in the genre. Compound that with said rapper being a white boy who goes by Skipp Whitman, and it takes effort simply not to be seen as a novelty. Luckily for Whitman, his 2010 record, Skipp City, deftly avoids stereotype and proves that his music deserves to be taken seriously.
This record, Whitman’s debut LP, represents the culmination of years of paying dues on the underground hip-hop scene, a fact that he cleverly lampoons on the opener, “Release Dates.” In a genre where albums are pushed back almost as often as they are released, Whitman finds humor and heart in his honesty, deciding to own up to his record’s delays rather than pretend that they didn’t exist. “Everybody’s been asking, when’s your album dropping? / You ain’t copping nothing, cheapskate,” he raps, continuing in the chorus, “I’ve been waiting my whole life, you’ve been waiting two years,” and “perfection is a bitch, but so is not being clear on release dates.”
Whitman’s tongue-in-cheek self-effacement is one of the album’s brightest qualities. He doesn’t try to hide the embarrassing mundanity of his roots. “I know that I could get nice things doing some other shit, so why am I chasing this fame?” he raps on “Good Morning,” admitting that his middle-class origins could likely have taken him to financial success much faster than hip hop. This willingness to consider and reject the easy route makes him a much more sympathetic and charismatic figure.
“Never Told a Lie” is a surprising look inward at both Whitman himself and the rap world in general, turning a critical eye to the genre. Lyrics like “PR is gold, Pete Rock is old / oh, no disrespect, I’m just saying young’ns know / only what they been shown” shine a light on the uncertain future of a genre still in relative infancy, where the legends of the past fade into irrelevance.
Whitman’s rapping ability is competent, but his flow is not likely to dazzle with its technical depth. He occasionally runs into trouble with awkwardly enjambed lines, with artificial pauses inserted mid-sentence as new lines begin. Rhymes are often stretches — it takes quite an effort to get “bitches” to rhyme fluidly with “pictures.” But what he lacks in vocal skills, he makes up with the inventiveness of his lyrics. But perhaps the most interesting thing about Skipp City is Whitman’s readiness to put his own insecurity, comfortable origins, and desire for attention on full display. He becomes less of an oversized persona, like the kind that so many rappers work to cultivate, and more of a relatable human being.
Skipp City features no vocalists except Whitman and is entirely self-produced and self-released. The production is varied in instrumentation and mood, and suitably catchy and booming. However, each individual song features little variety in its own beat — usually a 10-second snippet repeating endlessly. The result is production that is serviceable but not mind-blowing. Still, it’s impressive that Whitman created a record as intriguing as Skipp City with little assistance. Maybe it had some trouble with release dates, but now that the LP is out and available, those problems are irrelevant, and the world is left with an unusually personal slab of solid rap music.