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Oh No - The Disrupt

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Artist: Oh No

Album: The Disrupt

Label: Stones Throw

Review date: Aug. 22, 2004

The narrative is a familiar, if not archetypical one: siblings, forging ahead in the footsteps of a retiring or passing patriarch, are drawn into competition for seating at the head of the family table. The brothers and sisters, in a coalition-building effort, draw their relatives into the mix, tying and retying their familial loyalties into thick and sometimes double-crossed knots. The story sometimes ends tragically, with a death or general lamenting from all involved parties. Given their ability to sink to dramatic depths, sibling rivalries are easy fodder for legend and tabloid. The Bible has Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau; Shakespeare has Cordelia, Goneril, and Regan; American politics has the Kennedy clan; the paparazzi have William and Harry, Paris and Nicky. And perhaps hip-hop—a music and culture full of myth and gossip, not to mention its fair share of beefing—can add the Jackson brothers as its own fable of a birthright challenge.

The Disrupt, the first full-length offering from multitasking California rapper and producer Oh No, nee Michael Jackson, cannot help but be compared against the standard set by his brother Otis, otherwise known as Madlib, the hip-hop impresario who could seemingly do no wrong this year with the Blue Note remix project Shades Of Blue, “Champion Sound” with former Tribe Called Quest producer Jay-D, and Madvillainy with the multisyllabic wonder MF Doom. Under normal circumstances, Madlib would be a watermark too high for most any green hip-hop artist. But while one may try to elude his or her family, it’s tough to escape it entirely. And Oh No, who makes The Disrupt a family affair by seating Madlib behind the mixing boards for six of the album’s songs, certainly can’t escape the fact that in light of older brother Otis’ work, this freshman album comes off more than a tad sophomoric.

On the whole, The Disrupt is a faithful but tepid Stones Throw certified rendition of the kind of West Coast underground hip-hop Oh No’s predecessors Souls of Mischief, Peanut Butter Wolf and, of course, Madlib recorded before him. Like his big brother, Oh No still believes in his SP-1200, sampling beats instead of manufacturing them on a drum machine, framing his songs in the grit of recycled cracking vinyl and subdued mixing. But Oh No does not quite have his brother’s knack for mining record crates yet. A couple of his productions flicker as the brightest lights on this spotty record; two songs at the album’s midpoint, “Getaway” and “I Can’t Help Myself,” rest on jazzy airs and float off the record like a gentle breeze blowing across a Southern California beach. Both feature sung choruses and quieted drums, and are welcome departures from much of Oh No’s work on The Disrupt that, in revisiting the Stones Throw sound his brother helped define, does not disrupt but flatly goes through underground hip-hop’s kick-snare hi-hat motions. (Even “The Ride” — an ode to Nintendo and, apparently, the album’s lead single — feels less like a genuine paean to video games of old than a tepid copy of the Cocoa Brovas’ “Super Brooklyn,” the still undisputed champ of 16-bit b-boy nostalgia.)

In addition to his plain production, Oh No is not a particularly impressive lyricist. Perhaps in Oh No’s defense, one could point out that line-for-line and verse-for-verse, Madlib has never been the most gifted MC either. But what Madlib has lacked as a writer, he makes up for in personality or, at the very least, the assumed personality of his Quasimoto alter-ego. Oh No, however, appears to be the duller straight man of the Jackson musical family, the Zeppo to Madlib’s Groucho. Oh No even gets upstaged on “Move” by guest Roc C, not because Roc C is an especially compelling rapper, but because he delivers his verse in a bewildering imitation of Lloyd Banks’ staple half-baked cadence.

The Disrupt, for all its flaws, would most like be poorly received by the backpack crowd, if not for some clutch work by Oh No’s older brother. I like to think that Madlib, whose position at the head of the Jackson table (father Otis Sr. was a soul singer in his heyday) is still secure, has been reading scripture. The songs he leaves for Oh No — most notably “Every Section” and “WTF,” two bangers that show his younger brother just how the underground head-knodder is done — are proof that while Madlib is still the favored son, he is more than willing to be his brother’s keeper.

By Ben Yaster

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