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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Phat Kat
Carte Blanche
Look

Rating: 7.1/10 ?


April 20, 2007
2007 could be shaping up to be The Year of Detroit Rap. It hasn't all been good as of late for the Motor City, with the most significant mark of 2006 being the tragic passing of J Dilla, but as the adage goes, in death there is new life, and some of the late DJ's contemporaries are attempting to paint a silver lining. We have already seen the release of an encouraging debut (Popular Demand) from MC/producer Black Milk, and many await the release of Stones Throw contributing artist Guilty Simpson's first effort.

This year also marks the surfacing of budding MC Phat Kat, who has been on the scene for a minute but has only recently begun drawing a wider focus. Even though Carte Blanche is his second full-length, it is the first time that Phat Kat has stability and hype simultaneously working on his side. The 14-song album is an aural document of Kat's artistic and life struggles, as well as a spotlight on the abilities of a rapper both polished and gritty.

As the story goes, in the early 1990s Phat Kat (AKA Ronnie Cash) began collaborating with J Dilla (then Jay Dee) under the moniker First Down. In 1994 the duo signed to an indie label, but were deterred by internal troubles, and within the year the collabo was dissolved. Throughout the '90s and early 2000s Phat Kat aligned himself with success stories like A Tribe Called Quest and Slum Village, as well as reuniting with J Dilla, but with ongoing label troubles and perhaps simple bad luck, saw little come to fruition in terms of solo success.

So it is no surprise that Carte Blanche arrives from two different directions at once. On one hand is the experience and know-how Kat gleaned from two decades of rapping alongside exceptional artists. On the other is his brash style of clever, singular-line prose, projected from a cynical view of society and the music business.

But really, the album has one feel - 'down and Detroit dirty.' In part, the fluidity is due to the cohesive production of simplistic, dark, heavy hip-hop. Dilla still included his slightly behind-the-beat rhythms and clavinet hookplay, but the actual drum samples he used are harder than anything I've heard him do before. The overall album production standout is "Game Time," in which Dilla pits those beats against a slowly plucked Chinese stringed instrument. Black Milk's songwriting style is also fairly crafty (typically short two-measure melodies) and the sped-up female vocal sample in "Cash 'Em Out" is pretty deadly.

Phat Kat's rhyming style is equally dark and gritty, his natural timbre a grunt-like tone. Additionally impressive is a swift and steady cadence and balanced rhyming scheme attack. Each cut has its own theme and within pockets of phrases Kat turns witty quips ("I wreak havoc, speak static, my shirt is a unique fabric/ This is mink-rabbit fur on the physique, faggot" in "Nasty Ain't It?"), calls people out ("You phony rappers had your turn, now it's time to go/ I'm here to bring you live shows with legitimate flows" in "Cold Steel"), touts sexual explorations ("Back at my ranch I got them takin' off clothes/ Few minutes later I got them on all fours" in "Game Time"), and manages to connect everything back to the greater focus of superiority.

The unconventional lyrical framework through which Phat Kat crafts these inner-song themes makes the vocal soliloquy sometimes difficult to follow, sorta like vignettes in a well-written short story. Through 14 joints, Phat Kat focuses on straightening out label issues ("My Old Label" and "Nightmare"), paying respect to Dilla ("True Story Pt. 2"), Detroit pride ("Don't Nobody Care About Us"), and priming the hip-hop public for what he is about to bring ("Nasty Ain't It?" and "Get It Started").

Often Kat and his contributing MCs - Black Milk, Guilty Simpson, and Slum Village's T3 and Elzhi lay it down - can be construed as arrogantly talking game, but for a city that has been overlooked for so long, maybe it's time for Detroit to let others know that they've got it goin' on. Carte Blanche, which literally means "unconditional authority," is Phat Kat taking control of his own fate, and to some degree, that of his Motor City crew, too.

Reviewed by Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other reviews by Josh Zanger

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