Review Summary: Mac Lethal returns with his strongest work since OG 11:11.
By now it’s the stuff of legends (to some), but there was a time when Mac Lethal’s original magnum opus seemed like it would never see the light of day. However, when he finally dropped The Original 11:11 Sessions
back in early 2009 (after nearly five years of delays), the polarizing emcee began gaining more of the widespread recognition that the fans who followed the Love Potion series always knew he deserved. At that point, Mac was fully independent, his Black Clover Records label was flourishing and between Love Potion 5
, the Blood in the Water
mixtape and the b-sides collection Keep It Irish
, he sounded more comfortable and confident than ever before. This is where he flips the switch.
On North Korean BBQ
, it’s not so much that Mac strays away from his typical subject matter (life, love and substance abuse, in brief), it’s as if he’s holding onto to those elements of self with such a white-knuckle grip that you can almost hear them slipping away. However, he seems strangely comfortable with it; as if the result is intentional – Mac knows he needs to let go and is recording the cathartic event as it unfolds on track. Whereas on past releases there would often be a mix of battle-style tracks, humorous social/political commentary and songs of deeply personal magnitude, North Korean BBQ
prides itself on blending these traits into a single melting pot, exemplifying Mac Lethal’s growth as a lyricist, a story teller and an overall artist. The narrative of a failing relationship serves equally as the album’s storyline as it does a metaphor for the myriad of personal issues that accompany the transition into middle-age. It’s a concept that plays out beautifully and the accompanying soundtrack couldn’t be more fitting.
The album is backed by the strongest beats Mac’s ever had and the resulting effect is a cohesive collection of sounds wherein each individual element serves its purpose to the fullest – without sounding like overcompensation. The lush soundscapes (provided largely by consistent Mac collaborator Seven) are atmospheric and melodic while perfectly capturing the cold and wintery motif that provides the backdrop to many of the album’s themes. That’s not to say that this is solely a “winter album” though, as the number of upbeat and catchy tracks sprinkled throughout North Korean BBQ’s
runtime wouldn’t sound out of place at a backyard Midwest summer barbeque or humming through a set of car speakers – windows down as cigarette ash flies in the wind. From chilly opener “Therapy for Gangsters,” to the minor-keyed acoustic slides and bluesy piano samples in “Citrus,” or the high-powered synths on the upbeat “My Favorite Song,” the album is varied yet consistent – and enjoyable for its entirety.
If The Original 11:11 Sessions
was the story of a young man discovering himself amidst an array of adult problems then North Korean BBQ
exposes the dichotomy of that same man attempting to adapt to life in his early 30s. Once again, Mac Lethal has made a statement about everyday life that’s relevant and sincere, deeply personal yet almost universally relatable. It’s an album about experiences, love found and lost, knowledge gained and wasted; but mostly it’s the next chapter in the ever-evolving story of the most underappreciated artist in hip-hop.