Review Summary: Play Knock Madness. Or play "Ill Mind of Hopsin Five" eighteen times. Basically the same thing.
The last two years of Hopsin’s career have been particularly troubling. Not because he has strayed away from his course, although we did witness an evangelical awakening within Hopsin with “Ill Mind of Hopsin Five”, featuring an all-white clad Marcus amidst a group of ‘worthless’, ‘lazy’ teenagers, denouncing their acts as unrighteous and effectively denouncing an entire generation of America’s youth. Rather, within the spotty releases over the past two years, we’ve seen an uncomfortably stagnant Hopsin, offering a fairly standard picture of what we’ve come to expect from him. The same throwback Eminem, too clean, almost overtly corny instrumentals. The same flows from Ill Mind Four; and not the same type of flow, mind you, the same exact flow (if you’ve listened to enough Hopsin, you most likely know the exact pattern I’m referencing). The same subject matter that offers nothing outside of the standard, ‘real hip-hop’ variety. These kinds of issues are the ones that plague portions Knock Madness.
Knock Madness comes out blazing with the energetic cuts “The Fiends Are Knocking”, the album single “Hop is Back”, and “Who’s There”. These kinds of songs are where Hop excels, offering the dense internal rhyme schemes, self-deprecating humor, satanic metaphors, brash insults, and rapid-fire flows that we are sonically drawn to. On standout track “Rip Your Heart Out”, Hopsin delivers a dizzying barrage of lyrical assault, especially on the third verse in a moment that seems to channel the same tactics utilized in Eminem’s ‘Rap God’, off of the MMLP2. In another exceptional track, "I Need Help", Hopsin uses cold, swirling ambient sounds and thumping drums to turn what could have been a weak chorus into a menacing anthem.
Unfortunately, the biggest issue facing Knock Madness is versatility. It becomes very apparent through the course of the album that Hopsin knows how to do hard-knocking, energetic songs very well, but to a certain extent, this formulaic approach to constructing an album can become overbearing. Hopsin’s nihilistic, angry lyrics that are delivered at panicked, screaming heights can become grating and redundant, especially over the course of eighteen tracks.
Hopsin also loses his way when attempting to discuss topics of social importance, becoming much too dogmatic. On tracks like ‘Old Friend’, where Hopsin could have the chance to illustrate a very delicate and complicated topic such as drug use, he delivers a very simplistic and at times, narcissistic viewpoint, devoid of any sympathy or willingness to consider the situation from his friend’s vantage point. The corny hooks and refrains only make the song more clichéd (I haven’t decided whether the Chris Dolmeth/crystal meth pun is brilliant or in extremely poor taste).
The situation is made even worse when Hopsin tries to venture outside of this formula. On non-arguably the lowest point on this entire album, “Good Guys Get Left Behind”, Hopsin proceeds to unleash a sappy and embarrassing story of love gone wrong. His take on love on multiple occasions seems to be contradictory. For instance, he claims that he had the upmost intentions with this love interest and that he was drawn to her ‘essence’, but is hasty to point out that she also had a ‘sexy look’ and ‘rack of tits’. His analysis of her, as well of his conclusion of "should have f***ed her when I had the chance" leaves me wondering whether he was truly duped, or by choosing a girl primarily for her physical traits, he got exactly what he bargained for. The mid-verse rants delivered throughout the song seem tailor made to elicit head-shakes and face palms. The hook and instrumental on this song, though, top any of the lyrical potholes that occur on this song. The syrupy beat and sing-songy chorus put the nail in the coffin to what is an insufficient and childish stab at a relationship song.
The instrumentals and hooks are a large part of what makes the second half of this album unbearable. Knock Madness attempts to mimic the sonic cleanliness and style of the original MMLP, but only manages to sound like a bargain-bin carbon copy. On tracks like “Good Guys”, ‘Bad Manners”, “Still Got Love For You”, and the last four songs, starting with "Dream Forever", ham hooks and instrumentals render good to passable lyrics almost unlistenable. Whenever Hop strays away from boom-bap drums and horn-driven grooves, the stock FL Studio sounds and poor composition choices bog down any attempts at versatility.
Fans of Hopsin tend to eschew comparisons to mainstream contemporaries because they have a vision of those people having sold out, complying with satanic corporations in order to obtain fame and fortune, where as Hopsin has turned down the corporate monster to remain true to his music and his fans. But in the cases of fellow rappers Drake and Kendrick Lamar, Hopsin could stand to learn a thing or two concerning creating a cohesive experience in the format of an album. Hopsin knows how to rap, and Hopsin knows how to create hard-hitting, underground reminiscent songs. But what Hopsin has not yet mastered is offering an experience outside of the limited scope of songs he’s offered us over the past two or three years that has the same charm and wit as when he’s screaming over Eminem-emulating instrumentals. Had Hopsin trimmed the fat off of Knock Madness, reducing it to about a ten-track EP, I would have been fine with it. It wouldn't have been special, but it would have been an incredibly solid EP. Hopsin has yet to create something exceptional. Hopsin has yet to create something undeniable.
Overall, if you’re a ‘real hip-hop’ fan who has an aversion to any career move resembling mainstream acceptance or much needed change, love to hear other rappers rapping about how they rap better than other rappers who rap, and value lyrics enough to where you would disregard the abhorrent hooks and instrumentals that surface across this project, then you will be fine with Knock Madness. But unless Hopsin learns to grow into his own sound as an artist, he’s going to remain exactly where he is for the rest of his career. And that would be the greatest disservice Hopsin could do to any of us, fan or not.