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DM + Jemini - Ghetto Pop Life

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Artist: DM + Jemini

Album: Ghetto Pop Life

Label: Lex

Review date: Nov. 7, 2003

Childhoods are full of indelible associations. Danger Mouse was a favorite cartoon character from my youth who fought crime, lived in a mailbox and foiled the evil Silas Greenback with his clumsy sidekick Penfold. I had enormous affection for that animated mouse, and I would have been greatly disappointed to see his name borrowed for a lackluster hip hop album. Luckily, this was not the case. Superproducer Danger Mouse and his partner in rhyme, Jemini the Gifted One, have crafted an infectiously fun album that both pays homage to old-school European animation and ignores the accepted distinctions between commercial and underground hip hop without so much as a word on the subject.

By way of introduction, Jemini is a silver-tongued MC from Brooklyn with a penchant for fast flows and the ability to switch between high and low registers. Danger Mouse is a gifted producer with an ear for forging catchy, melodious beats with epic samples. Together they make a dynamic duo that is flexible enough to craft a banging battle rap or a soulful lament without seeming strained, much less skipping a beat.

On their album’s opening cut, “Born-A-MC”, Jemini quickly sets the tone for the album over a swelling, string-laden hook. “I’ve mastered each and every lyrical style that you’ll ever need / so lyrically, musically, spiritually / this album is all you’ll ever need / please believe.” Ego is nothing new in hip hop, but Jemini turns it into an art form, stuffing the LP with new and unique ways of saying he’s three times dope, if not more. Now for the everyday indie album, this could be detrimental, but Jemini is not the everyday indie rapper. After debuting with an EP in the mid-’90s, Jemini carries the vestiges of that era with him, a subtle throwback that situates his flow in a slightly different mode. In other words, he talks about whips, gats and bitches without reservation or abstraction, and he does so with his own charisma and verbal dexterity. He will tell you he is the best, and you will smile, nod and believe him.

Jemini’s charm is infectious, but Danger Mouse’s contribution to this album cannot be overstated. Whether he’s using a choral backing, an elegant string loop, or dropping heat with an oldie-jazz swing, his production is both unbeatably entertaining and completely devoid of digital diddling, relying only on the strength of his samples. When these production talents meet halfway with Jemini’s gift of gab, they create an album that moves forward with unrelenting energy, oscillating between funk and thump and rarely missing a trick.

The first half of the LP moves like this, hot and heavy, with lots of braggadocio courtesy of guests the Liks and J-Zone, and not a ton of deep meaning. The second half of the album is more conceptual than shit-talk. “Don’t Do Drugs” finds Jemini taking on the persona of a drug dealer, “Bush Boys” is a indictment of the current White House, “Here We Go Again” is a lament over ghetto misfortunes and “I’ma Doomee” is a soulful apology to Jem’s woman back home. The move toward narrative is sometimes quite successful and sometimes strained, with “Bush Boys” being the only uncompelling song on the album, weighted as it is by a jarring sitar sample and unimaginative hook. While the second half softens the groove and missteps once or twice, the majority of the tracks are more than solid, with cameos from Prince Po (Organized Konfusion) and The Pharcyde bringing welcome heat. The album finally closes much as it started, upbeat and brazen, with a nice horn loop and a tight verse from Jemini on “Knuckle Sandwich.”

The final verdict? Solid as the gold embossing on the cover, and then some. Ghetto Pop Life not only entertains, it proves that the divisions between independent and commercial hip hop are conceptual rather than actual. Without being self-reflexive or spouting some manifesto on the subject, Jem and DM prove that a well-cooked beat and a trash-talking MC can take the whole dialectic of fun vs. intellectual, consumerist vs. political, original vs. accessible, and throw it out the fucking window. This group has made a thumping, sometimes ignorant, sometimes enlightening album on one of the more left-of-center labels out there. Like many a great escape executed by the animated Danger Mouse, DM + Jemini have escaped the clutches of the pigeonhole, free to fight for our freedom with a loop and a lyric, destroying any ideological barriers that get in their way. But before they get to saving the world, they might just blaze an L and get laid. That’s just how they roll, fool.

By Owen Strock

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