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12 May, 2008@4:51 pm

Disclaimer from the editor: Okay, why the fuck is HipHopSite.Com reviewing the Madonna record? This is “hip-hop” site dot com. Madonna isn’t hip-hop. She’s not even R&B!?!? True, however, when a record – like this one – is exclusively produced by Timbaland and The Neptunes, it doesn’t matter who it’s by, we are going to give you our take on it. Also, it should be noted, while this record is reviewed positively, in no way should it’s “@” rating be held next to traditional hip-hop records. So this is a “@@@@” compared to Gwen Stefani’s “L.A.M.B.”, not compared to say, Smif ‘N Wesson’s “Da Shinin”. Apples and oranges, ya’ll. Now on to the review…

Enter Madonna’s Hard Candy. Oh, so shocking. The 50 year dominatrix looks creepy on the cover art, and the album title itself is as cringe inducing as a song about Lil’ Wayne getting his “lollipop” licked. These were all signs to stay far, far away from this record. That, and of course the sordid past Madonna shares with hip-hop – from ripping off Public Enemy’s “Security Of The First World” for “Justify My Love”, to removing Big Daddy Kane’s last semblance of rawness by somehow getting him to pose nude in her photo book, Sex. Yes, Madonna’s not every really been that down with us hip-hop kids. From cone-shaped bras to kissing Britney, she’s never managed to shock us, as we were listening to Eazy-E and Eminem far exceed the limits of good taste, of which she was only vogue-ing around.

So, is it no surprise that after 20 years, Madonna has finally started tapping hip-hop producers for her new record? Considering how the lines are so blurred these days on what’s hip-hop and what isn’t, of course not. While at the surface this looks like pink pop fluff that should be nowhere near your Mad Skillz and Main Source mp3 directories, it’s something different at closer examination… a VA producer’s showdown between The Neptunes and Timbaland.

With all the money on the line for this record, both The Neptunes and Timbaland have come to the table with some of their best, most innovative beats yet. The two acts clearly competing with one another to see who could come with the hotter tracks for this record, since it’s likely to outsell anything else they’ve been affiliated with given M-Dolla’s rabid fanbase (we guess that’s her new Wu-Gambino alias…or something).

After a strong stint of pop records from themselves and their contemporaries, the trio of Timbaland, Timberlake, and Danja reteam for much of Madonna’s record, evoking a similar fusion found on Justin’s Futuresex/Lovesounds. The scorching lead single, “4 Minutes”, is obviously of their handiwork, as each player lends their contributions – almost to the point where you forget that this is Madonna’s song (which can be said for a lot of the album). Later on “Dance 2Night”, they craft another one of those funky Morris Day-esque tracks, as Madonna and Justin split the vocals. By the time the hook hits, they’ve somehow recreated the sound found on her early tracks like “Lucky Star” and “Get Into The Groove”, yet not dated and corny. Not all of their contributions come with such stellar results however – as “Miles Away” is a by-the-numbers adult-contemporary song with some Timbaland beat-boxing added. Same can be said for “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” – which sounds just a little too similar to songs like  Justin’s “What Goes Around (Comes Back Around)” or 50′s “Ayo Technology”.

The Neptunes however, clearly win this contest, pushing the limits of their sound and thinking way outside the box when producing the LP. “Candy Shop”, for instance, packs tribal drums, didgeridoo, and electric keys, as Madonna compares her womanhood to various flavors of sugary sweets – overdone, yes – but undeniably dope production. “Give It To Me” takes things a step further, packing raw snares, futuristic synth and even a Hyphy breakdown. Oh, and they replay elements of Special Ed’s “Come On Let’s Move It”. Wow.

Pharrell and Chad continue to redefine the sound of pop music on the disco-flavored “Beat Goes On”, as Pharrell and Madonna share the hook, while Kanye steps in for a guest verse. Things come to a head on “Spanish Lesson”, where Madonna continues her obsession with Latin lovers (last heard on “La Isla Bonita”), but this time over a ridiculous B-More drum set and acoustic guitars.

It’s not all good though, The Neptunes have a few missteps with “Incredible” – a six-and-half-minute road to nowhere, that goes in several directions and repeats itself over and over again. “She’s Not Me” is also a bit jumbled, as Madonna’s lyrics seem like the musings of a 21 year old girl, not an aging milf. Coupled with Pharrell’s off-key, falsetto crooning, it’s not exactly a good look.

All in all, Madonna’s Hard Candy is a surprisingly good record – and this is coming from someone who doesn’t like her as a person, much less an artist. If you feel like listening to this record will make you flip-out gay, it probably will; in that case, stay away or come to grips with who you really are. If you have a pretty good hold on your manliness and just want hear some hot beats from some of the best producers music has to offer, get Hard Candy. Sure, the argument can be made that big bucks will buy you the best songwriting and beat-making out there – and that’s exactly what this is, but if Tim and The Neptunes are barely going to produce hip-hop LP’s anymore, we’ve gotta get our fix somehow. – Pizzo

  Mixtape D.L.
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