Going Against The Flow

It'll be interesting to see what happens when this talented MC stops defending and focuses all his energy on creating.

Canibus has nothing to prove. "Second Round K.O.," his answer to LL Cool

J's attack, set Canibus up better than he could have dreamed. People have been

awaiting his debut, Can-I-Bus, for months -- not because they had

questions about his skills, but because they wanted more.

So it's frustrating that so much of Can-I-Bus is taken up with the

typical boasts and put-downs. More than any other MC, Canibus has no

reputation to defend -- he's established, even if only on the basis of one

song -- so why is he wasting his time and ours?

Canibus definitely has flow, the most elusive of hip-hop skills -- few of

his rhymes sound forced or have trouble fitting together. Even on his

paranoid conspiracy travelogue, "Channel Zero," he busts lines such as "I'm

talking about the grand deception of 1947/ when our souls were sold to the

heavens/ for technologically advanced weapons" that trip off his tongue

effortlessly. (So, yeah, he's a nut, but he's an articulate nut, more

organized but no less far-out than Kool Keith.) It's what made "Second

Round K.O." such a success -- he attacks LL with a ferocity that never

outstrips his skills. The song's inclusion on Can-I-Bus is a little

redundant, given its ubiquity, but it fits into the rest of the record in

a peculiar fashion: A response single such as "K.O." is by definition more

rhyme- than beat-driven; it's a creature of the moment, and the message is

more important than the musical impact. Unfortunately, most of

Can-I-Bus' tracks feel just as musically neglected.

Of course, what do you expect with six different producers manning the

boards? The record's disjointed, to be sure, but also put together

piecemeal -- it doesn't flow. Still, there are successes. "Channel

Zero" is so lyrically entertaining that you overlook the indistinct beats.

"Niggonometry" doesn't have that problem -- its loping groove works

perfectly while Canibus spits out (he's almost always spitting out) crazy

formulas, adding up corruption, conspiracy and ignorance (and a weird bit

about subtracting the mass of all the animals in the ocean -- you'll have

to listen yourself). "I Honor You" originally seemed needlessly saccharine,

but on second listen, it's actually a sweet number with producer Wyclef

Jean's trademarked melodic sensibilities underscoring Canibus' story of

his relationship with his mother. (Again, the rapper's tendency to attack

his verses works against him on this one, and lines such as "I swear to you,

I'll be there for you" come out sounding like a threat instead of a

promise.)

But the real success of the record is the anti-violence anthem "What's

Going On," which, to its credit, does not borrow from the Marvin Gaye song

but rather Bobby Womack's "Interlude #2." Canibus' gift for narrative

truly gets a workout on the track --- there's not a trace of bravado, just

regret, anger and -- an unusual sentiment in hip-hop -- bafflement. It

works, and you wish Canibus' gift for coherence was put to this kind of

use throughout the whole record.

Still, Can-I-Bus isn't a failure, it's just, at times, shallow,

which is a criticism you can level at most hip-hop records (not to mention

most pop records). Hopefully, when he next goes into the studio, Canibus

will get down to business, instead of trying to show us who he is and what

he can do. We already know -- the next step is to take it further.