Review Summary: One of the greatest hip-hop releases that you've never heard about, MF Grimm's talent leads him to create the first three disc hip-hop album. And you need to buy it. Now.
MF Grimm has always had a vision. From his early days as a child actor for Sesame Street (fun fact of the day), Grimm quickly grew up, starting selling some dope, nearly got killed by his stepfather (and watched his stepbrother perish in the process), became blind, paralyzed, and confined to a wheelchair for life; and eventually got a life sentence in jail, which was eventually reduced down to three years. His story is ripe for exploitation, but Grimm did his work the hard way, never pulling the pity card like 50 Cent did. Despite the countless personal drama, Grimm has persevered to accomplish that vision: the vision of him being the best underground rapper alive. Grimm began his hip-hop career by becoming a part of the hip-hop group the Gravediggaz, which quickly fell apart. But Grimm’s reputation had definitely increased: his hardened criminal mind mixed with his effortless flow resulted in him becoming one of the best battle rappers of the decade. In the late Nineties, he finally founded his own label, named Day By Day Entertainment, and started recording albums. Four critically acclaimed albums and one term in jail later, MF Grimm’s reputation knows no bounds. But he has yet to accomplish his epic vision: he still needs to make something huge, something heavy, and something that will cement his reputation forever. He needs to make…something BIG
And albums don’t come in a bigger, heavier, or a more epic package than MF Grimm’s American Hunger
does. This album, released in 2006 to mostly underground but to noticeably large fanfare, consists of THREE DISCS, each one lasting over an hour and the whole thing totaling up to over two hundred minutes. Fu
ck the fact that it’s HUGE, American Hunger
is also historical: it’s the first hip-hop triple disc ever created. Guests are sparse, the amount of tracks here totals up to sixty on the nose, and--most shockingly of all--the album is not weighed down by unnecessary filler. Unlike most other one disc hip-hop albums, American Hunger
has no pointless one-minute skits, and every song is thoughtfully placed and ordered within the tracklist. While the album is difficult to digest--you can’t listen to it all at once, as it’s just too long and sprawling to consume in a single serving--but that doesn’t take away from its greatness. American Hunger
can be described as hip-hop’s version of the Magnetic Field’s 69 Love Songs
: it’s big, it’s pretentious, and it’s a seminal release within its genre.
The album is cut up into three groups: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. Despite the concept-album undertones, the material barely varies from album to album, although Dinner admittedly has a distinctly religious theme, both beat-wise and lyric-wise. But as you might expect from an epic triple album, Grimm keeps the material varied so that the listener doesn’t become bored. The endless plethora of producers help Grimm makes songs that range from beautiful love songs (“When Faith Is Lost”), an acoustic, outlaw-country tune (“Dark Skies (No Jugamos)”), classic 90’s East Coast grittiness (“My Mentality”), and bizarre doo-wop (“Things I’ve Said”). The beats are underproduced and give off a deep, lo-fi feeling, which matches the underground variedness of the songs. The production is also often layered, with violins and horns and guitars, but still sound underground, like there’s a fine layer of dirt between you and the whole and beautiful painting. But while newer and more commercially-minded albums hit you over the head with overproduced and monotonous keyboard rhythms, American Hunger’s
bright, messy production never gets syrupy and fatty with these special effects, allowing the producers to nimbly construct interesting and lasting beats.
MF Grimm has also noticeably improved as an overall rapper. His flow is slippery and precise, always enunciating perfectly, with no annoying Southern drawl to keep his spits joined and messy. His delivery is often abstract and more thought-out, perfectly extending awkward pauses so that a rather normal verse becomes jumbled and messy, which perfectly fits with the production. The rapping takes more effort and more time to listen to and truly appreciate, but if you can withstand it, you’ll be handsomely rewarded. Grimm’s also always been able to handle any type of song, but the variety found on American Hunger
shows off his skill more than ever. MF Grimm sounds completely innocent and loving on the wistful ballad “When Faith Is Lost”, but he sounds menacing on the politically-based “American Hunger (Breakfast)”, and he can easily handle the rapcore styling of the violent and personal “Page Six”, which surprisingly is a true highlight among the plethora of songs found here. The main lyrical focus of American Hunger
is still mostly about politics, and MF Grimm manages to present his views in a socially conscious way that isn’t dull. Unlike the fake positive lyrics churned out in the early Nineties by lesser artists such as Arrested Development, MF Grimm attacks politics with a deep vengeance and with a bloody anarchist’s view that was no doubt developed during his run-ins with the law. Instead of sounding like A Tribe Called Quest, American Hunger
follows down the path of rap legends Public Enemy.
Describing every one of the songs here is impossible, mainly because there are sixty of them and that they all manage to be stunners. There are barely any actual standouts other than the tracks I’ve mentioned, but this is because each song manages to trump the previous one, and each song manages to bring American Hunger
to a different light. Sure, if Grimm really actually tried, American Hunger
could maybe be cut down to two discs, but so many excellent tracks would be left on the cutting room floor that it would be ridiculous. It’s hard to even think of cutting songs such as “It’s No Secret”, with its soulful mellowness and a well-fitting vocal sample that beats anything Kanye has put out in the past year. And cutting “Crazy”, which would be a number one hit if found on a more commercially-minded rapper’s album, would be, well, crazy. But these songs are just middle-of-the-road tracks; they aren’t highlights, nor do they pretend to be highlights. The fact that they’re just more songs--and just that, more songs--completely shows off MF Grimm’s genius.
Genius. It’s definitely needed to pull off a triple album that is completely devoid of filler, completely devoid of sales-mongering radio biscuits, and completely devoid of the normal crap that usually bogs down a great hip-hop album. MF Grimm may be the most talented hip-hop artist that you’ve never heard of, and that in itself is the real problem. T.I. may get most of the press, but he can’t even fill one disc of concept-based hip-hop without adding unnecessary filler. Lil Wayne may have the most anticipated album of the year, but match him in a rap battle with MF Grimm and I’d have no reservations on predicting who the winner would be. MF Grimm could have made a disaster with American Hunger
, but it instead cements his wheelchair-bound frame into hip-hop history; putting the finishing touches on one of the greatest stories of all time. American Hunger
isn’t proclaimed as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. But it will be.