White, suburban and financially secure…in 2005, an MC with these attributes is more common than ever. And more often than not you won’t find rappers with this standing flaunting their privilege. In fact, they do their best to cover it up. So when a talented freestyle MC from a well-to-do L.A. suburb comes along and admits he didn’t go through the strife life at all, it’s almost a breath of fresh of air. Enter Hot Karl, an MC who’s obsessed with the ’80s, not afraid to admit to being suburban and not too concerned about conforming to contemporary hip-hop trends.
When you first look at pictures of Karl with his blazer, designer jeans and nerd glasses on, you may be tempted to quickly pass up this release, just as this critic first did. But corny as his image may be, Karl’s got a nice flow, a cunning sense of humor and some pretty good beats to top it off.
On his overdue debut, The Great Escape, Karl has a damn good time because he’s just being himself. While his lost Interscope debut, Your Housekeeper Hates You (featuring Redman, Fabulous Mya, et al.) was never released, Karl almost seems happy it didn’t. With a series of comical skits featuring Karl and a pushy A&R named Dave Gossett on The Great Escape, he pokes fun at the ridiculousness of major label dealings and A&R’s expectations-all of which he has experienced first hand. The album’s first cut (“Let’s Talk”) even features MC Search playing devil’s advocate as a money-hungry record exec while Karl pleads his case as a hip-hop purist. Simply put, this album sees Karl jubilantly celebrate his creative control.
Upon listening to his official debut, you’ll find Karl paying tribute to the ’80s (“Kerk Gybson”), calling out ladies with tight bodies but busted faces (“ButterFace”) and unveiling the absurdity of suburbanites and their privilege (“Home Sweet Home”). While he usually keeps his tone slapstick, he does so without sacrificing the quality of his lyrics or breath control. Yet, the most interesting song, “I’ve Heard” produced by 9th Wonder, is also the most serious. This song is in part dedicated to 9th Wonder, who initially rejected working with Karl. But after 9th heard Karl’s heartfelt verses written in response to the rumors surrounding his career, 9th hooked Karl up with a ridiculously tight violin-driven instrumental. Lines like: “I’ve heard I’m just a gimmick that cashes in on a fad / well if it’s so hot / why’s my career so bad?” say it all.
As tempting as it is to hate on Karl because of his image, hearing this album will likely cure any doubts you have about his skills. Sure there are a few songs like “Suburban Superstar” that are simply too soft for most heads, but if you can appreciate blatant honesty and hip-hop with a sense of humor, this album is actually pretty enjoyable. As Karl says on the ending of “I’ve Heard,” “I mean hey, even if you hate me, you got to at least admit I’m saying something different.” Fair enough.
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