It’s no secret that hip-hop is currently in a very fragile state. Despite what radio play and Billboard charts may indicate, hip-hop artists have reached a point where they must innovate or die (figuratively, of course). No longer can an artist dwell in the golden era of hip-hop, or revel in the enlightened world of mid-late 90’s hip-hop. No – today, innovation is the name of the game, and those who don’t innovate simply can’t play.
This brings me to Shawn Jackson’s latest full-length, Brand New Old Me. Expectations are high for this West Coast rapper who released a mighty fine debut in First of All…, which was then followed up with the very-good-but-not-quite-great Sound Check as one-half of the duo New Jack Hustle. The album opens with what I truly believe to be one of the strongest hip-hop tracks of the year, “(Introlude) Good Writtens”, which allows Mr. Jackson to re-introduce himself over anthemic horns. Unfortunately, the second track, “Brand New Old Me”, features an incredibly obnoxious and vapid hook, but nonetheless manages to explain the premise of the album.
Brand New Old Me is constructed around the idea that Shawn Jackson will be reverting to his old self – except the updated version. This drives one to wonder, does Jackson wish to innovate or act on some sort of trite, hip-hop revivalist platform? Well, as it turns out, he pursues a bit of both on Brand New Old Me, thus somehow justifying the title.
Jackson has always had a natural ease on the microphone, and thus he turns to his confident flow for hip-hop’s namesake. That’s the “old.” The “brand new” surfaces largely in the production, which takes a drastic turn into electronica and away from standard boom-bap. One listen to “Izichu” is all one needs to get a perfect taste of the wonky, fractured beats that polish the album from front to back. The production, handled by a slew of beatsmiths including Beat Maker Beat, Astronote and Cook Classics, ranges from decent to great. None of the beats are clear duds, and for the most part they lend a breezy, SoCal vibe that complements Jackson’s mellow demeanor.
There are, however, glaring flaws on Brand New Old Me. Although I’m sure numerous underground heads will disagree, there are just too many tracks where Shawn goes on without really saying anything of interest. “TILT” is a slice-of-life ode to cruising the boulevard with some of life’s finer (read: women and expensive clothes) things. Furthermore, the r&b-laced choruses that are splattered all throughout the album are devoid of creativity.
Brand New Old Me may attempt to push an innovative image with its title and its progressive production, but let’s not be fooled – there is not a whole lot of “new” going on here. The album is saved because, as noted, Shawn does have an innate gift to rhyme and craft occasional interesting wordplay. Ultimately, Brand New Old Me is an album that will grow stale in a year where emcees are in desperate need of an original thought or two.