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Perhaps only once in his career has Redman unveiled the depths of his potential. On his last and best solo album, 1998’s Doc’s Da Name, the Newark, N.J.-born MC offered another episode in his regular Soopaman Lova series. Although these tracks are usually tributes to Redman’s virility, this time out, Redman turned the form on its head, spinning the tale of a black and broke superhero struggling with child support: “Damn this, Soopaman used to stack them chips/Now I’m broke ’cause little kids riding Batman dick/I’m not a hater, but the Caped Crusader’s blocking my dough.”
The desperate Soopaman begins running with a clique of loose women “who got phone bills in they mama name” and turns to a life of crime. “I’m critically acclaimed, but the press’ll fuck my name up,” Redman raps. “Police is looking for me, call the mayor he a-hang up/ Nowhere to run to and Brownstone even know it/So I pack the fo’-fifth, and the ice on your wrist, forfeit.”
“Soopaman Lova IV” is one of the precious few times when Redman has turned away from his rote subject matter of smoking blunts, receiving fellatio, and shooting people. It’s also creative and humorous, but it’s not the sort of song that Redman has built his career on, and even on Doc’s Da Name it was lost among the many variations on the Redman theme. For a decade now, Redman has been beating the same urban-negritude drum, and though critics like me would love to see him do more, his success at re-spinning the same yarn is indisputable.
Redman has, after all, managed to carve out a profitable record career (three gold albums and one platinum) and adhere to his down ‘n’ dirty aesthetic. Through the ascendance of gangsta rap, the rise of pop-rap, and even the mainstream success of rap-metal, Redman has always been Redman. Although the past 10 years have seen a slew of rappers hopping from style to style until they hop right out of their record contracts, Redman has remained dedicated to his idea of what an MC should be.
The result is that rarity in rapdom: the truly original MC. Redman is the extension of his mentors, EPMD, and his sound has always reflected that group’s love for hiphop’s most basic sonic elements: heavy bass and prominent percussion. But to those, Redman has added an artistic persona with a Chuck D-like ability to command attention, a Richard Pryor-esque sense of humor, and occasional elements of Kool Keith-style surrealism. The whole package makes for a rapper capable of turning any posse track into a solo performance. Witness Redman’s oft-slept-on 1999 collaboration with Method Man, Blackout, in which he drew the spotlight from an MC whose own show-stealing abilities are formidable, as any Wu-Tang Clan album will demonstrate.
Apprehending the greatness of a Redman album, however, exacts a price from its listeners, as seemingly a good third of his MO hinges on the denigration of women. A Redman record is, without failure, sexist, the word “bitch” dispensed as though it were a synonym for “female.” You have to cringe when you hear a man compare himself to Ike Turner or even metaphorically refer to himself as a date-rapist. Redman’s misogyny is no more flagrant than any other rapper’s, but perhaps because his talent is so much greater than most, his hatred is more bothersome.
None of this changes on the MC’s latest offering, Malpractice. Unfortunately for Redman, the album lacks the moving soundscape needed to make his repetition excusable. The tracks aren’t terrible; they just fail to induce an involuntary head nodthe calling card of a good Redman cut. For an artist like Redman, such a turn is especially bad, because his frenetic delivery demands so much from a track.
But most of Malpractice fails to meet Redman’s requirements. The signature heavy thump that has characterized most of his work is absent here, replaced by whistling synthesizers and drums that sound like little more than a 10-year-old tapping on a plastic bowl. This same musical formula is repeated track after track, meaning that Redman has the unenviable task of bringing some diversity to the album by himself. But diversity has never been Redman’s strength, and the weakness of the tracks only makes his own redundancy more apparent.
Malpractice gets off to a bad start with “Diggy Doc,” an homage to the D.O.C.’s legendary “The D.O.C. & the Doctor.” The original is a classic rap song, distinguished by pounding drums and chaotic cuts courtesy of producer Dr. Dre. It would seem to be a perfect track to inspire Redman, one of only a few artists who’ve actually had success reworking rap chestnuts. He offers up his standard vocal braggadocio”It’s like Shaq and Kobe, I be for four quarters/Callin’ veterinarians to get the dogs off ya/Animals Attack Part 4, people starin’/I’m not the type of Focker that’ll go and meet your parents”but the original’s drum beats and guitar licks have been replaced with a sleek, smooth sound that completely clashes with the MC’s raw flow. The album’s first single, “Let’s Get Dirty (I Can’t Get in da Club),” suffers a similar problem: There’s simply not enough soul in the track to support Redman’s weighty vocalizing.
The times on Malpractice when Redman’s verbal stylings are given adequate backing are few, but they do exist. Foremost among them is “J.U.M.P.,” a cut that is greatly aided by guest artist George Clinton’s gravelly baritone. Redman’s latest installment in his Soopaman series, “Soopaman Luva 5,” also manages to rise to the artist’s previous standards. Nonetheless, Malpractice easily ranks as his weakest full-length effort to date.
Unlike many underground artists who slip up badly, Redman doesn’t fail because he’s making a crossover attempt. Yet the album still feels like one long, boring song. The numerous cameos and skits don’t help much, either. For whatever reason, Malpractice never quite gets going; instead, it sits in one place for all of its 23 tracks. Redman himself isn’t the problem: His performances are as alive as always. Unfortunately, his producers have left most of the album’s tracks half-finished, resulting in a disc that isn’t at all worthy of a Soopaman. CP