Hip-hop is filled with charismatic producers looking to become superstars themselves. DJ Mustard, the king of the ratchets in L.A., is cementing his pole position as summer radio’s hitmaker by dropping an album and touring the world. Mike Will Made It supplemented his brush with pop stardom by releasing a steady stream of mixtapes in preparation for his debut album. Even more unknown guys like ATL weirdo Metro Boomin are wrangling together enough quality output to build a brand for themselves.
Statik Selektah, a Boston DJ and producer who’s been hosting his own radio show and releasing albums for the better part of a decade, looks at all of these star chasers and laughs. Turning his back to the sounds of modern rap, Statik Selektah’s sixth album, What Goes Around, pulls its collaborators into an insular world of old school styles and hyper-lyrical showmanship and traps them there, for better or worse.
As a producer, Statik is a studied professional. A boom bap purist, What Goes Around is filled with retro-leaning techniques—polished record scratching and cut-up samples. Despite a tendency for black-and-white, dusty production, he kneels into his jazz influences, and a lot of the album has a warm, inviting feel to it. But the workmanlike style of his production tires throughout the long album.
Bad beats are few and far between here; then again, so are standouts. His horn samples recall the work of Pete Rock but without any of the euphoria, and none of his beats lock in with the precision of a DJ Premier production. This is an unfair comparison; no modern artist should have to constantly be viewed in the shadow of the legends that came before. But the insistence on classical forms is a double edged sword. If you work with the sounds of an era embalmed in history, you’re going to sound a bit dated.
Armed with capable but unremarkable beats, What Goes Around lives and dies on the strength of its rappers. And there are some quality MC’s littered throughout here. Veterans are clearly happy to be back in their element of schoolground cyphers, trading bars back and forth. Styles P tells Breaking Bad jokes on “The Thrill Is Gone,” Pharoahe Monch stutters and swings around “Down Like This” and immediate highlight “The Imperial” showcases Royce Da 5’9” and Black Thought positioning themselves for a Most Underrated Rapper award. But a cypher session that clocks in at 20 tracks can grow mundane. Some of the liveliest moments on the tape are when Statik gives the song to a young rapper and lets him create a world of his own. Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$, and Boldy James all shine in their solo spots and add a little diversity to the meat and potatoes stylings of the rest of the tape.
What Goes Around is built on a timeless formula: great rappers and great beats. But too much filler weighs down the good moments and undermines the tape as a whole. The unproven mix with all-stars, beats morph into each other, and the quality of the album lives from verse to verse rather than song to song. Turns out the most important thing for Statik Selektah isn’t the fundamentals, but an editor.
3 out of 5
You can buy What Goes Around on Amazon.