Slaughterhouse have always been something of a weird proposition. In some ways they sort of make sense, a super group of roughneck rhymers that all feel more than a little out of step with the current climate and all with a dedication to honest-to-goodness rapping. A coming together of the sort of rappers that a certain type of hip-hop blogger periodically used to lose their shit over five years ago, basically.
But this is also their greatest weakness. Despite their adequate skills (in some cases better than adequate – looking at you, Royce), their self-titled debut and their output since haven’t been total duds, but they definitely didn’t set the world alight either. House Rules, their latest album and one released with a pretty big co-sign courtesy of homie Eminem (like their past few it’s out on Aftermath), solidifies why once and for all: these guys are just too similar to function well as a group.
Seriously, for anyone uninitiated it would be difficult to tell these guys apart, even if they do drop their own names quite a bit. The character that they all unfortunately share isn’t a particularly interesting one either. All of these guys are gruff, pissed off at other rappers, and have difficult pasts and sometimes presents. This is all fine, but when its couched in lyricism as shaky as some of the stuff found on House Rules gritty traditionalism will only take you so far.
The one thing that Slaughterhouse do have going for them is a relatively unique old head take on hip-hop. Rather than sharing the chip on their shoulders that so many older street rappers possess, Slaughterhouse seem at times eager not to appear bitter, all while still taking ownership of their pride in their achievements. It’s the one balancing act they really pull off here, and its as endearing as it is interesting.
Unfortunately, these sentiments are too often surrounded by the kinds of clunkers that keep the album from reaching that higher tier people assume it might based purely on technicals. On the first track, these guys are apparently “on Mars with Bruno”. It’s difficult to see in what world this would be an effective boast. Elsewhere, they indulge in the kind of forehead-slap metaphors that have brought down some of their label head’s recent material. “Like a paparazzi I’m shooting for the stars”.
It’s unfortunate that these moments are here, because they detract from what Slaughterhouse is trying to do more effectively elsewhere. Rather than standard battle or street rap, quite a bit of the album is tasked with dealing with real grown man troubles. Anxieties about mortality, infidelity and past indiscretions all come up and are tackled if not gracefully then at least honestly and tactfully. These guys don’t have quite the lyrical pedigree for these tales to truly connect in the way they could, but they are still among the album’s most satisfying moments.
As for beats, House Rules does thankfully move away from Aftermath’s typical overblown bombast (though it is here in doses). The best stuff here is actually quite cerebral and actually a little surprising, something that you don’t expect going in to a Slaughterhouse record. Nottz, the mastermind behind Pusha T’s “Nosetalgia”, laces the best track “SayDatThen” with ethereal piano lines that complement each verses recantations of personal strife, while the Neptunes meets cloud rap of “Struggle” manages to overcome a couple of cheap sounding sonics to be pretty satisfying. Even the Araabmuzik tracks are a little airier than what he’s usually give to these guys. It doesn’t hurt that the mixtape is closed out with a beat by the ever-reliable Harry Fraud either.
Slaughterhouse seem destined at this point to be workhorse rappers. They’re never going to transcend beyond their cipher ready skill set. But the flashes of depth here are a nice riposte from the typical knucklehead street rap that someone like, say, ex G-Unit members are still churning out. It makes for a hardcore rap record that revels in its traditionalism but has a sprinkle of uniqueness, which should be great news to whoever is still listening to this stuff.