Sharkey & C-Rayz Walz Are...
When you do a point-by-point breakdown, comparisons between Gnarls Barkley and Monster Maker seem inevitable. Like Danger Mouse, DC-based producer Sharkey has received critical acclaim working both on his own (his solo debut, Sharkey's Machine, was ranked one of the Washington Post's Top 10 albums of the year) and with artists ranging from Grand Puba and Jean Grae to Eminem and Public Enemy. Like Cee-Lo, Bronx native C-Rayz Walz is a respected emcee whose crew, Stronghold, has never achieved commercial success commensurate with its talent, and who has received more notoriety for guest spots with like-minded artists such as Cannibal Ox and Aesop Rock. But most importantly, like Gnarls Barkley's trailblazing St. Elsewhere, Monster Maker's debut is a genre-defying concept album that blurs the lines dividing Hip Hop, alt-rock, electro-funk and techno, creating a wholly unique sound influenced by seemingly everyone and comparable to no one... except, of course, Gnarls Barkley.
The concept, as expressed explicitly on the Sly Stone-meets-Andre 3000 opener, "This Ol' Twisted World," is that the turbulent nature of our modern society turns even the most inherently good-natured of humans into monsters, whether they be of the boogeyman variety or just a vicious emcee hell-bent on tearing up the mic. C-Rayz Walz proves to be the latter, cathartically releasing two years of frustrations that included record label woes, poor album sales, losing most of his possessions, firing his manager, a tour falling through, his brother getting killed and baby mama drama that left him without a visit with his son for months. Pushed close to the edge of losing his damn mind, Walz clearly found release in collaborating with Sharkey, and the duo's debut feels like a pressure cooker of a party record determined to let off steam.
"I can't bow down/ Or toss the crown/ Lose the fight?/ Nah, I only lost the round," Walz raps with his Sadat X-like nasal flow on "My Way," sounding every bit like the scrappy underdog he is. On the anthemic "Pain to the Picture," he hits even harder, fiercely attacking the mic over a dense percussive backdrop that uses strings, piano and samples to rollicking effect. The blatant crossover attempt of "Electric Avenue" reinvents Eddy Grant's reggae-pop classic with descriptive lyrics painting a vivid picture of the modern concrete jungle: "Out in the street there's violent beats/ Helicopter birds, rhino Jeeps/ Scuffed-up shoes from tyrant's feet/ No peace when the wino speaks." But it's on riveting sociopolitical tracks like the dub-influenced "Might She Shoot" and hard-hitting boom-bap tracks like the off-kilter "That Moment Before Crazy" (featuring Vast Aire) that the pairing of Sharkey and C-Rayz Walz proves most effective.
The album is definitely not for everyone- those with closed minds need not apply. But for listeners always on the lookout for that next-level shit that blazes new trails and expands the boundaries of Hip Hop in the process, this album is a monster made by two ultra-creative cats clearly determined to change the status quo.