Athletic Mic League MC Buff1 has made a lot of noise since the release of his critically acclaimed debut solo album Pure in 2007. On top of being on URB’s next 100 list in 2009, Buff’s sophomore album, There’s Only One, and two free mix tapes, It’s a 1derful Life and Ghosting, have been celebrated by fans and critics alike, allowing Buff to become a prominent voice in the talented Michigan hip hop scene. Recently, legendary west coast DJ and Beat Junkie co-founder DJ Rhettmatic joined forces with the Ann Arbor mic athlete to pay homage to the classic combination of one MC and one DJ on a full record with their new group and self titled album, Crown Royale.
It’s quite clear from the opening barrage of heroic horns and strings that this album will remove itself from the present day sound of independent hip hop and take it back to a time where aggressive skill reigned supreme. Rhettmatic’s soundscapes will remind listeners of hip hop production from the 1998-2000 era, as will Buff1’s bravado when he conjures up age old stabs at rappers that don’t sound “like a bullet from the barrel” and “write jingle raps like you took them from a carol.” This format, which some would now consider an underground cliche, is prevalent throughout the album and wears out its welcome by the midpoint. Besides a few flickers of brilliance, many records sound aged and mix tape ready, rather than progressive collaborations between two of hip hop’s most celebrated names.
In an industry where numerous artists continue to push the envelope, it’s almost tough to listen to concepts, lyrics, and production that have been in play for decades when they are presented the same way as their predecessors. The formulas laid out on Crown Royale bubble with nostalgia in songs like “Blitz“, “Crown Royale“, “We Gotcha“ and “Say What“, but lack the new era appeal that will keep fans on the edge of their seat and sound lackluster compared to other 2010 cuts. The highlights of the album such as the conceptual “Looking for Answers”, “Envyus” (where Buff and Rhettmatic shine the brightest as a unit with help from Magestik Legend), “Thank U”, “Testing”, and the ten man posse cut “The Chosen Show” all stand up well on their own, but get lost within the record’s weak body.
For a highly anticipated collaboration album between two respected figures in hip hop, Crown Royale falls short of delivering what’s expected with this mix of talent. Instead of an iced glass of Crown and Coke, we got Crown and Chipotle. But, after we get over this small stomach ache, we will be prepared to consume more from these two and know the next sip of Crown will go down much smoother.