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
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.