June 19, 2003

Gold Chains "Young Miss America"

Cex once remarked that he is ìlike a white Eminem.î Initially, his description sounded redundant, but upon further analysis it proved to be quite insightful. Although Eminem and Cex are both white emcees, they draw from separate influences. Whereas Eminem was immersed in hip-hop from day one, Cex took a more circuitous path, traversing first through more stereotypically ìwhiteî genres such as indie-rock and IDM before assuming his current identity. If this reviewer can say that Cex is a white version of Eminem, then surely I can make another deceptively redundant comparison: Gold Chains is like a West Coast Cex. Although both Gold Chains and Cex are white Californian emcees with indie-rock and IDM backgrounds, their latest albums represent the same sort of tension that used to exist between cerebral East Coast rappers (think early Nas) and their more hedonistic West Coast counterparts (think Snoop Dogg). Whereas Cexís Being Ridden consists mainly of introspective rants about dislocation and disintegrating relationships, Gold Chainsí Young Miss America is an album-length celebration of having fun and getting laid. (Now would be a good time to validate my comparison by mentioning that Cex has only been living on the West Coast for a year, and is originally from Baltimore, Maryland.)

Gold Chains (also known as Topher Lafata) initially puts on an intellectual pretense. He describes himself as a ìpunk rock MCî and inserts signifiers such as ìundergroundî and ìcommunityî into a couple of songs. On ìSeveral Times Defined,î Chains urges the girl heís interested in to quit her job and make art instead. ìMuch Currency Flowsî is a condemnation of avarice: ìI donít see what this is trying to accomplish in the larger scheme of things. What about community and the love that it brings?î Lafata even slows the traditional hip-hop chant of ìmake money make moneyî down to a sinister sneer to emphasize his point. That song is immediately followed by ìNada,î another ìmoney canít buy loveî screed. However, his attempts to be profound are few and far between, and more than outnumbered by his pleas for booty. A song called ìRevolutionî proposes no actual plans for revolution: just a ìf**k youî to ìhatersî and a fantasy about making love in the White House. Chainsí pickup line in ìThe Gameî (ìYou look so cute in those Gucci boots/Prada shirt wrapped around that Cali coochî) isnít that far removed from Chingyís ìI like the way you do that right thurr.î Later on in the song, his promise of ìnothing but kicks to the curb for the absurd persona of a stuck-up bitchî sounds like a more verbose, less sinister version of Dr. Dreís ìIf a woman wanna trip, Iíll have to lay the smackdown.î On ìWhat Are We Looking For,î Lafata tells a girl that he wants to do cocaine off of her behind. ìBreak or Be Brokenî is a declaration of sexual prowess in which Chains vows to ìmake you singî in a ìfive octave range.î

If Gold Chains is a ìpunk rock MCî itís only because of the medium he
chooses, not the actual message he delivers through it. Basically, heís crafted a rap album just as horny and mindless as any record from the West Coastís early-nineties G-funk heyday, which isnít necessarily a bad thing. The ìkicks to the curbî line notwithstanding, Lafata avoids the misogyny and ultra-violence that plagued those records. On the title track, Chains asks, ìWho needs a bitch when you have a lover?î Itís a question that the many emcees lack the maturity to ask. Lafataís beats arenít very funky, but theyíre very melodic and diverse. ìSeveral Times Definedî is driven by garage-rock organs, ìThe Gameî does a nice imitation of Afrika Bambataa-style electro, ìNadaî sounds like a collision between Bollywood and Broadway, and many other songs have stiff four-on-the-floor rhythms that Todd Terry would kill for. Last but not least, Chainsí voice, a gruff, lisping instrument that stretches syllables to nearly intolerable lengths, has an inherent machismo that many white emcees still lack. Although I can definitely imagine Lafata getting a more play than Cex (and much more play than ANYONE in Anticon), heís still a dork at heart. On ìBreak or Be Brokenî he compares the sexual act to computerized sequencing. Will the word ìquantizeî EVER pop up in a Ludacris song? I think notÖ

---Sean Padilla

No comments: