The Trouble With Cameos

I don’t know much about Consequence, but I’m impressed by his friends. Consequence, an experienced rapper out of Queens, New York, has a new mixtape out called Movies On Demand with a variety of enjoyable songs featuring — make that co-starring, to fit the “movies” theme — some pretty big players. The mixtape is out under the auspices of Kanye West’s GOOD Music label, or Getting Out Our Dreams. In a single song (the last track on the album, a “G.O.O.D. VS. Bad Megamix” of “Whatever U Want,” the first single from Consequence’s upcoming album, Cons TV), Consequence collaborates with Kanye West, P. Diddy, Common, Kid Cudi, The Lox and John Legend. That’s quite a roster! The song makes a good bookend to the mixtape, which began with a track that co-starred Clinton Sparks, Talib Kweli and Common (again).

Actually, on only three tracks of the thirteen song mixtape does Consequence perform solo. The rest feature Asher Roth, Rick Ross, Pharoahe Monche, Styles P, Maino, Spree Wilson and Q-Tip (plus the artists already mentioned). Some of these names you may know; others, not. But all of them do a good job and improve the album. There is an especially delightful verse on “Childish Games” by Asher Roth, a young, white rapper from Philadelphia whose middle class party anthem “I Love College” was a pretty big hit in 2009. All in all, these collaborations help make this one of the most fun mixtapes I have heard in a while.

But therein lies the rub. I’m not positive, but I suspect the album wouldn’t be very good without the star power and charisma of this “supporting cast.” Thematically it is nothing special: another defiant collection of songs about money, violence, partying, success, hood life and the state of the rap game. These are all fine topics, but Consequence’s treatment lacks the maturity to make them fresh. One song, “Don’t Mean 2 Hurt You,” does stand out — a make-up song addressed to an anonymous girlfriend in which Consequence describes, with some regret, his infidelity. Unfortunately the track is more apologetics than apology, making it an oddity, rather than an emotionally compelling confession.

And Consequence? I guess I would say that he is “fine,” with the connotations of mediocrity that word implies. His flow is smooth and steady, and his voice is well trained, though luckily he leaves most of the singing to his R&B co-stars. His lyrics are clever and entertaining — “And me, I’m the king of the entire hood / A lion wouldn’t cheat, but I know a tiger would (Tiger Wood)” — but they are funny-haha, not interesting, insightful or unique. Don’t get me wrong: I like the album, including Consequence’s solo songs, and only a couple times is he outclassed by his more successful co-stars. Still, I can’t decide whether this mixtape is a tribute to the fun and magic of quality collaborations, or a cautionary tale about the dangers depending on the support of more talented friends.

I actually think Consequence could be really great if he can find new themes to write about or learn to shed a little pride and discuss his issues in a more frank and genuine way. However I don’t think he will get there by screwing around in the studio with his superstar pals. In hip-hop, multi-artist collaborations have great entertainment value, but often lack the intimacy of a great songwriter’s solo work. And that makes sense. Get rap stars together, and they want to have fun, one-up each other, make a party out of it. It isn’t group therapy.

But hip-hop is changing, and the standard braggadocio is sounding increasingly stale. If artists like Consequence want to make it as big and stay there, like Kanye West or Common, they need to find ways to make us, their listeners, care about more than who their friends are.

To download Consequence’s new mixtape, Movies On Demand, visit http://hear-it-first.net/?p=29679.

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