A musician needs a certain amount of bravery to be limitless. Once his music leaves the confines of familiarity and category, it invites ridicule from listeners jarred from their musical comfort zone. Rapper/producer SoCalled’s second release, Ghettoblaster, does its fair share of envelope-pushing, chiseling rock, jazz, Jewish klezmer music and hip hop down into one cohesive body.
The album opens with “Lets Get Wet”, a jazz-gone-80's-electric tune that, with rolling horns reminiscent of Fela Kuti, sounds large and important, but most noticeably throughout the record, SoCalled successfully fuses Klezmer and hip hop sounds. A primary showing is “Rock the Belz”, a merger of a baritone-voiced Jewish elder singing a folk song accompanied by a choppy drum combination reminiscent of early Portishead. SoCalled even spits a little bit, as he reminisces on his suburban youth. “Every Friday night we’re staying up too late / Can’t get a ride from mom so you make the whole crew wait / Bonfires, pool parties, speedy days and spring breaks / Running through the forest jumping in lakes”. It is apparent that the Montreal music man shuns the predictable rap verse, a trait I find largely refreshing.
Guests on Ghettoblaster include famed James Brown trombonist Fred Wesely, Wu-tang affiliate C-Rayz Walz, and producer Gonzales. Featured MCs and singers don't overpower SoCalled’s production, but wisely linger in the music’s background, providing sporadic vocal offerings instead of full-on verses. Unfortunately, towards album’s end, songs become a bit unfocused while ideas and sounds seem to border on monotony. For instance, the hymn-like track “Baleboste” seemingly recreates the same musical irony as “Rock the Belz” but after several listens, the music’s novelty fades, leaving us with beats that linger barely above mediocre. Still, artistic bravery is certainly something to be celebrated. Many want to test the restrictions but are unwilling to endure the inevitable repercussions. SoCalled has pushed those confines by successfully blending an assortment of influences while heavily utilizing both Jewish and hip hop angles.