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Roosevelt Franklin - Something's Gotta Give

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Artist: Roosevelt Franklin

Album: Something's Gotta Give

Label: Third Earth

Review date: Feb. 22, 2004

Beneath the surface of Roosevelt Franklin’s debut are two dominant emotions, pushing and pulling at each other, creating a tension that ultimately propels the album forward. On one side there’s a low growl of lost loves, empty bank accounts, and a rap game that doesn’t gleam like it used to. On the other side there’s a self-effacing comedy that spawns Chapelle-influenced skits and the off-kilter experiments. Somewhere between these two aesthetics lies Something’s Gotta Give, a bi-polar experience that is sometimes bumping and sometimes lackluster, but ultimately satisfying in its expression of contradictions.

Mr. Len of Company Flow fame handles, as the liner notes claim, “most” of the beats, and Kimani, the founder of Third Earth Music and one half of The Masterminds, runs the mic device. They are a talented team, with Kimani’s one-syllable-too-many flow and Mr. Len’s rough-edged, sometimes soulful production settling into an easy friendship. They choose to open the album on the skit “Dropping Crazy Science Yo,” which levels its sights directly at the pretension and bullshit in the indie hip hop scene. Opening an album on a skit is not always the wisest decision, and though funny, this opener eventually wears itself thin. The real album starter “Lately” kicks the thing off with a frenetic string sample over a gritty drum track. With rhymes like “when it rains, sometimes I’d rather walk instead / ‘stead of jumping on the train with the walking dead,” this song establishes Kimani’s mixture of depression and anger than seethes through the rest of the LP, imbuing even his run of the mill shit-talk with a passion that’s hard to ignore.

The first half of the album runs through a series of things that are pissing Len and Kimani off. The excellent “New Jack City” attacks a culture that has no sense of its own history (and utilizes the best snare hit I’ve heard in a long time). “S N M” (Smart Nigga Music) attacks a industry that looks down on any level of intelligence or positivity in hip hop. The skit “I Am So Rich” pulls an Eddie Murphy (“you on welfare / you can’t buy nuttin’”) over a Yeah Yeah Yeahs sample, and “Troublearth” is a mix of what’s personally bothering Kimani and politically getting his goat.

On the drop of a Leadbelly lyric, the album switches its emphasis away from the external problems to matters of the heart. “A Meditation on Why Love Sucks,” is about as emo as Kimani gets, which is followed directly by “The Line,” a song about a friend Kimani no longer wants as just a friend. “Insomnia 411” is the final note in this non-consecutive series, bringing in Slug and Jean Grae to help “drink beer to erase your face.” The passion of these relationship-oriented tracks strike me as the real impetus for Kimani’s dark demeanor, the underlying rumble that makes everything else seem so shitty.

Not everything is gloom and doom. When Kimani isn’t pondering the mess of his life, he’s busy making fun of it in various entertaining and strange ways, bringing a wry humor to an album that would otherwise be overloaded with ennui. An example is “Muppet Love,” a spoof of a sex track featuring Mr. Len on the mic for the first time, as well as an excess of libido and Sesame Street references. And despite all the soul-searching, cursing, and dark humor, Something’s Gotta Give finds its way to “The Long Road and Still Walking,” a horn-heavy closer that finds Kimani taking stock of his past and imagining a possible future. There is no happy ending, no simple answer, but the album finds some resolution in the process of its own journey. Something’s Gotta Give is not a perfect experience by any means, plagued by some awkward transitions and a few uninspired tracks. But though imperfect, it carries its own weight well, making more funk than noise, and making the experience seem well worth it.

By Owen Strock

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