Review Summary: Kids always think they're smarter than adults until they grow up and realize life is much harder as adults.
There’s a moment here, a simple line drenched in resonating poignancy, when Mac Lethal declares “the opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is indifference.” While this may not seem overwhelmingly profound on the surface, this line perfectly illustrates the difference between Mac and the majority of Hip Hop artists. Whether we’re talking about the dick-measuring gangsta rap of 90’s West Coast, exactly how many hoes Southern rappers have slammed in the back of da club, or how many punks were smoked by the metaphorical hand of the majority of East Coast rhyme-sayers, it’s clear that the majority of Hip-Hop, and ultimately part of its charm, is simply not giving a f*ck about anything, gloriously swimming an in an ocean of indifference, whether it’s contrived or not. To most Hip Hop artists, booze and cocaine are simply gateways to getting hard, gettin’ money, and you know the rest. To Mac, these vices are more requirements for adults to get through their messed up days in their f*cked up adult lives.
Mac Lethal is not an indifferent Hip Hop artist or human being. Mac Lethal definitely gives a f*ck, and views that ocean of indifference as a rotting sea of drowning disease. Sure, Mac made his name by ruthlessly slaying other MC’s in battles, and a large portion of his back catalog is comprised of humorous sketches and social commentary rants, but the apex of his work has always been the stripped down, cathartic moments, the ones where he sounds like he is ripping every booze drenched, regretful cell out of his body just to examine them and figure out what the f*ck went wrong. A lot of therapists believe that in order to achieve true self-examination, you have to beat the hell out of yourself first, and Mac’s two greatest records are all about this process. “The Original 11:11 Sessions” was this exercise, a chronicle of a younger man’s struggles and trying to figure out how to plow through depressing circumstances that should not be happening to anybody, much less someone in their early twenties. On his latest Mixtape “North Korean BBQ,” Mac is at this same crossroads of love and loss, of dejection and self-destruction, and it’s even more depressing this time around because he deals with the overpoweringly difficult process of getting older and feeling used up. And damn it if it doesn’t work tremendously.
As a central theme, “North Korean BBQ” seems to be about aging frat-boys and people who have always been way too old for their years alike exploding their depression through catharsis. The majority of Mac’s rhymes here are somber, moribund, and self-deprecating, with small hints of positivity and redemption boiling beneath the surface. With the exception of “Something I Can Heart,” “My Favorite Song,” and “Little Mac,” all more traditional up-beat Hip Hop fare strategically placed in the middle presumably to give everyone a break, “North Korean BBQ” is a long struggle, metaphorically similar to trying to slog through a cold, depressing winter with the aid of mind numbing substances, but really hating yourself for it. The reason this works so well are summarily due to Mac’s unbridled sincerity, extreme wit, and easily the best beats he’s ever put on wax. When the subject matter can get to be too devastating (and sometimes it does), the songs are often propped up by gliding atmospheric beats, particularly on “War Drum” and I’m Odd,” which are not coincidentally two of the best tracks he’s ever conjured. Album highlight “Citrus” rides a minor chord laced barreling acoustic guitar into one of the most infectious jams of his career, even if again, the subject matter is morose. “Feel It In The Air” was presumably written in about ten minutes and feels entirely off-the-cuff, but that is precisely why it works. This is an album about the honest and true emotions exploding within oneself, and what better way to extrapolate that feeling more accurately than to go straight off the dome. Whether unintentional or a by-product of his freestyle background, most of Mac’s best jams are like that.
In Mac’s own words, “North Korean BBQ” is for “old souls,” and the central theme of “turning 30 and realizing everything is downhill from here” rings true throughout. 30 is an arbitrary number for pinpointing the moment you realize you’re not a kid anymore, that you were not smarter than adults, and that your life now sucks, but it happens to almost everybody at some point, as it has clearly happened to Mac. The difference is Mac has the balls to talk about it, and beyond that, to lay all of it on the table, extrapolating every insecurity and nerver-shattering fear bleeding through the edges of his conscious being. This is where the realness comes in, and it’s some of the best Hip Hop you’ve probably never heard of.