The nihilism of the G-funk era left us with the lesson that not giving a fuck was, at least in the rap vernacular, a virtue. It’s been well over a decade since anyone’s questioned or revised that lesson, but it’s perpetuated itself through mythology and misinterpretation. And so maybe OJ Simpson is what it sounds like now, a few layers of history and irony and allusion later: swaggering, unfazed, a little menacing, but above all too cool to commit and too aloof to reveal whether that’s renunciation or laziness talking.
Madlib and Guilty Simpson seem like an unintuitive team, except that both of them don’t give a fuck – fairly staunchly, at that, albeit in different ways. Madlib’s calculated imprecision has always blurred the line between innovative and indulgent; Simpson is hard to pin down, neither all thug nor all brains, reasonably complex with rhyme but still hard (and more authentically so, probably, than fellow Detroit rapper Eminem, who doth protest too much). Both of them are untethered at the expense of consistency, great one minute and utterly forgettable the next. Nothing they do ever really feels out of the blue, because it’s all the blue. So they made an album: why the fuck not?
OJ Simpson, split down the middle between tweaky rap tracks and swampy interludes, keeps the wheat-to-chaff ratio about where you would expect. Madlib’s solo sections are mostly useless, a bongwater-soaked stream of blaxploitation comedy riffs and seamy organ grindings, but he can produce a legitimate rap banger when he wants to: see the enticing oddity “Scratch Warning” and the Dilla-channeling “Back on the Road Again.” Simpson keeps up a lively monotone of stoned boasts and offhanded raucousness, with the occasional inspired flash (“I go at your street with aggression / The same way I go at a beat and wreck sessions / Then shoot a load on your freak in Best Western”). On one song he candidly laments the incarceration of a local drug kingpin; in the next he empathizes with Kwame Kilpatrick), rhymes his name with “still practice,” and somehow brags “I do ‘em in like a tube steak.”
It’s possible that the proper rap tracks get more leeway than they should simply because they sound so coherent after three and a half minutes of asinine filler—but every so often the imprecision just clicks beautifully, relocating that line between what’s easy to improvise and what’s hard to pass off as effortless. OJ is directly proportional to the talent and focus, or lack thereof, invested in it: it works when it works, falls flat when it falls flat. In the latter case it’s not worth the trouble. In the former, though, it’s weirdly refreshing to hear two dudes caring only just as much as they need to, making you wonder just what they’re supposed to be giving a fuck about anyway.