Album Review: Che Grand – Everything’s Good Ugly (2009)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Potholes
Personal taste and expectations are two angles critics have to work through when fairly reviewing an album. The task can become more difficult when the artist being analyzed is up and coming. Their image and initial sounds can misguide a listener from an artist’s creative objectives. Che Grand’s Everything’s Good Ugly fits perfectly into this scenario: an emerging New York emcee, (by way of Virginia and London), who’s known to post on OkayPlayer’s message boards, and who has dropped a couple of free mixtapes. If one judged by the title and cover art, they’d think a raw, boom-bap, no bullshit rap album was ready to grace their ears. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Everything’s Good Ugly sounds as polished and triumphant as most mainstream rap albums, has its fair share of woman/relationship tracks, and expresses a joy for the simple things in life. Everything’s Good Ugly is more a reference to preserving through the ugly circumstances life hands you, while you aspire for the finer things.
The album open’s fairly strong with tracks like “Bless’d”, “Gift Wrap” and “Walking Under Ladders” featuring Elucid and Spec Boogie. “Gift Wrap”, produced by fellow up-’n'-comer Brian Brizzo, is full of blaring horn and trumpet samples rattling against rolling drums and crashing cymbals, as Che delivers an effortless flow and witty couplets. “Walking Under Ladders” is a beastly cut courtesy of underground heat maker Illmind, show-casing all three emcees’ gift for mic control. In a nice surprise Wale Oyejide pops in to produce the gutter, but joyous “Celebrate We”. It’s very much akin to a torso grabbing electro clash hip hop take on Afro-Beat. Another stand out is “Large Hadron Collider”, where we find Che Grand addressing a myriad of topics while incorporating Talib’s intro to “African Dream” as the hook.
Here is where one is reminded that those “type” of songs are just one-third of the album. Che and his team of producers have “radio friendly” songs like “Too Much Too Soon”, “I Know You Still Want Me”, and “Life’s Grand”; full of R&B hooks and testimonials to experiences with the opposite sex and life’s obstacles. The club is also locked down with tracks like the enjoyable “Swing”, the annoying “City on Fire” and the bland “Restart”. And while Che sounds comfortable on the various sound palettes, the results are a bit schizophrenic.
To be fair, Everything’s Good Ugly is a strong album that suffers not from production or emceeing, but from length and the desire to please too many types of listeners. In a moment where the album as art form and viable commodity is in a state of turmoil, an 18-song debut with 10 different producers can be a bit exhausting. Trim the fat, give us 10-14 darts that express who you are and where you are coming from, but more importantly, pick two to four producers to help maintain a unified sound. All in all, it’s good to hear Che Grand with others like Elucid, Fresh Daily, P. Casso (who now goes by P.so) and Homeboy Sandman give New York rap a breathe of fresh air, and uproot it from its obsessive hold to that boom-bap aesthetic, or selling itself short to the more popular musical stylings of the time.