After enjoying newfound commercial success with his “Oh Canada” single last year, longtime underground Canadian emcee Classified is out to prove he’s not a one-hit wonder, especially with 13 albums already under his belt. On Handshakes and Middle Fingers, his 14th LP (second as a major), Classified assures everyone that nothing about him has changed, save for a few more opportunities.
On “Ups And Downs,” Classified reflects on both the good and bad tidings success has brought his way. The airy and orchestral production juxtaposes nicely with the heavy tone of his voice and words, while sorting out his thoughts for all to see. This leads right into the rock tinged “That Ain’t Classy,” which finds Classified brandishing those who find themselves caught up in the trappings of fame and simultaneously pledging not to fall down the same path. While not the route most would take for their lead single, that serves as the last thing on his mind. Life’s simple realities make up Classified’s life and that, along with a healthy love for Hip-Hop, is what surfaces in a bulk of his songs. “Young Soul” is a jazzy look on the give and takes associated with growing older, while “The Day Doesn’t Die” deals with moving on regardless of whether offenders are forgiven or not. The message on the latter is slightly diminished in part to a Sugar Ray-esque chorus that will stick around in listeners heads much longer than the lyrics.
Teaming up with the perennially pessimistic Joe Budden on “Unusual,” the duo revel in the brief glimpses of rain that emerge through the black clouds. Spouting off lines like: “We’re borderline assholes, like immigration officers/Word, it gets better and gets worse/I’m more used to it every day I’m on this earth…,” Classified more than holds his own with Mouse. Class’ life occasionally goes from lemon to lemonade and it’s usually when Hip-Hop is involved. Backed by a flourish of flutes and tribal drums on “Maybe It’s Just Me,” Classified and Brother Ali spit light-hearted rhymes. Unleashing a lively flow, the song’s guest steals the show by practically diddy bopping on the track while recounting coming up in the Twin Cities. On the lively “Passion,” Classified cleverly opens each verse by flipping cliché lines as a jumping point to show his passion for his craft.
As always, when one dwells on a subject too long, there are bound to be a few missteps and songs like “Run With Me” and “They Don’t Know” both lack the creative spark to justify Class continually showing how he’s representing for the genre. “Desensitized” starts outs strong before dissolving into just another song about clubbing in excess. Classified could stand to take the same advice he gives to upstarts on “Step It Up” and come up with a couple of better concepts. It appears that he has more than enough material to delve from his personal life alone, yet he continually feels the need to wave the flag in support of Hip-Hop. As mentioned before, these are minor offenses and do not nearly come close to throwing the listening experience totally out whack. The fact that Classified does his own production is a credit to how well the album flows, despite the varying subject matter. Handshakes and Middle Fingers probably will not garner any return trips to the podium, but it goes a long way to show this wily veteran can still put it down in the booth.