As opposed to going into some long, drawn-out introduction as to why I'd review mc chris's latest album, mc chris is dead, I just thought I'd say that with certain reviews as of late, maybe a slightly punk-influenced hip-hop/rap album might be appropriate.
For those who don't know, mc chris (all lowercase, no dots) was born Christopher Brendan Ward IV. Before picking up a career as an MC (short for Master Chief, of course) Chris was best known as the voice of Hesh in "Sealab 2021" or MC P. Pants on "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," both on Adult Swim. Chris rapped a little in his free time and actually got to have some of his music showcased in the cartoons. In 2001 he put out Life's a Bitch and I'm Her Pimp with the mc chris moniker. The lack of capitalization and punctuation was done to highlight the fact that he didn't take the project too seriously, as it was originally meant to be a joke and an outlet for Chris's drunk antics. Through the magic of the interwebs mc chris's song, "Fett's Vette," caught on with Star Wars fans looking to combine their love of obscure Star Wars cannon, tight rhymes and high-pitched vocals and an internet phenomenon was born.
Over the course of the last seven years, mc chris has released five more albums, been on and off DC Flag Records, has returned to self-releasing albums and has toured more feverishly than many punk bands half his age. With mc chris is dead, mc chris continues to give hardcore fans what they love, while demonstrating that he doesn't want to be put in a particular genre cage. The most startling part of the album is the lack of producer/beatmaker John Fewell, who has been on hand for all of mc chris's previous albums. In Fewell's place is Andrew Futral, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist of the Age of Rockets. While this may throw off a few long-time mc chris fans, it's a great switch and works to the album's benefit. Futral adds a great deal more depth musically than can be found on any previous mc chris albums. The songs aren't merely raps over beats, as can be said of some of mc chris's earlier work, but rather cohesive structures that seem to have been put together cooperatively, so that both the vocals and the beats complement each other.
The addition of Futral's beats also help the album address a long-standing issue that has followed mc chris regarding his relationship with "nerdcore"-style hip-hop. While mc chris does share common themes with what many consider "nerdcore," he has been adamant that he seeks to expand his music and reach general music fans (something perhaps not possible by other nerdcore pioneers such as MC Frontalot and MC Hawking). Futral helps by allowing the music to have a more complete sound and not having the music relay solely on the content or the style of the MC (as is typical for most nerdcore). For his part, mc chris has worked hard to pen some of his most clever and universally relatable songs. While nerd elements are clearly present in songs such as "Nrrrd Grrrl" and "Reese," there are also songs about alienation ("The Masturbation Song"), determination ("Never Give Up") and even some braggadocio ("Kill It"). Though hardcore critics may still pigeonhole the album, it is clear that mc chris is serious about expanding his music and his audience.
While mc chris is branching out thematically, lyrically, he's every bit the wordsmith he's demonstrated on previous albums and perhaps even sharper than before. The album kicks off with the title track and mc chris spinning a web of words about his own untimely death and his eventual resurrection as a zombie (following a story arch set up in his previous album Dungeon Master of Ceremonies). The track is filled with so many twists turns and rhymes, that lines such as, "(MC Chris is dead!) On arrival, watch his rivals revel the jealous / Relish the moment their opponent went sublevel / Six feet under, what a bummer, it's no wonder the waste / Could have been a contender, now maggots march in his face" may take a few listens to fully decipher (though that may not be added by his delivery...more on that later). Even on more benign subject matter mc chris lights up the mic. On the track "Reese" mc chris puts together a flow about the history of Reese's Pieces that's not only thorough but done so well you actually enjoy the track despite the History Channel-like subject matter.
Any major complaints with mc chris is dead are likely to be very similar to those that have followed on previous albums, and I'll address them in order of their frequency (or at least the ones I hear the most). Number one, "mc chris's voice is high/annoying." Yes, it's high and a bit nasally at times, but it's one of those like it or hate it aspects of his music. It's how he's always sounded and fans enjoy it, critics don't. Number two, "the skits suck." True -- one need only thumb through most commercial rap to see that the "skit track" is possibly the worst addition to any album. What these sketches have going for them is they do follow a loose story arch over the albums and they tend to utilize humor that appeals to mc chris's audience. Additionally, the skits on mc chris is dead seem much less harsh than the screaming that occupied Knowing Is Half the Hassle and better planned out and recorded than all of his previous skits. The other main critique is probably around the various releases of this album. There was the original digital download version with 10 tracks, the original CD release with 16 tracks (the version in this review) and the recently expanded "black" version, with at least one extra song. It's a lot to keep up with, especially for an artist who may not be at your local Best Buy or record store. Save for the bevy of re-releases, many of the complaints are aspects that will always be presented by detractors and to his credit mc chris seems to have taken the time to consciously improve his delivery on this album and to make the skits more purposeful to the story and not just album filler.
What mc chris did with mc chris is dead could easily have blown up in his face. Many times artists attempt to broaden their musical base and they end up alienating long-time fans, while making an album that isn't interesting (or good) enough to attract new ones. Instead, the album expands on mc chris's existing brand of humorous, outsider lyrics with more universal themes and pairs them with music that's exciting and fitting. While it may not thrill hardline "nerdcore" kids, it might win over some folks still on the fence. Plus, with references to NOFX and the Mr. T Experience and a track featuring Andrew W.K., it may even be acceptable to a few punks.