Review Summary: Be a man and get involved.
Even to the most casual listener, it’s always been obvious that rap music is punctuated with distinct characters. Gangsta rappers tap into the ever-present, worldwide obsession with crime that everyone pretends to hate, whilst the guys in the indie circuit put out literate records that worship at the alter of language. For all the memorable names and faces, though, hip-hop often lacks a sense of welcome that other, more passive genres provide. They might be cool, intelligent and passionate, but would you really want to hang out with the average emcee? When it comes to Mac Lethal, the answer is probably ‘yes’. Not because he sounds soft in any way, but because he sounds like a guy who just picked up a mic and started rapping about his life, the stuff he cares about and the stuff that pis
ses him off. Rather than be dominated by the genre, Mac renders it almost transparent, never sounding as if he’s relying on old tropes to extend the length of an album or song. He isn’t trying to make hip-hop, he isn’t trying to make Mac Lethal songs; instead he communicates what he has inside to the listener in the most direct way possible, backed up by a skill with words that ranges from relaxed to near-ruthless.
North Korean BBQ
is a subtle piece of work, with layers and undercurrents of tone moving through the beats and lyrics. From the brooding acoustic guitar of ‘Citrus’ to the club synths of ‘Little Mac’, the record produces a level of atmosphere that marks an interesting, welcome progression from the sparse instrumentation of previous works. Mac himself sounds like a man pushed to more than one edge of his life, with the regret of ‘Feel it in the Air’ and the numbness of ‘Shannon’ seeing him reach new levels of catharsis. Written in the aftermath of a failed relationship, North Korean BBQ
is the sound of a man hitting the bottom and keeping it together as best as he can. The playfulness with words and sparkling wit that Mac is known for is still there, but the subject matter is darker than ever before. It’s difficult not to be affected by lyrics that are as emotionally naked as ‘see I thought breaking up was bad, until I told a little girl that I can’t be her step-dad’. Thankfully there are elements of relief which add balance to the album; the bounce of ‘My Favorite Song’ might be ironic compared to the bitterness of the words within, but it’s still a lot of fun. Dark as it is, this isn’t the sound of self-pity. And for anyone suffering the blows of an ordinary life going wrong, Mac Lethal’s latest might just be the soundtrack you need.