Artists have been seeking inspiration in the comfortable climate and unchecked decadence of Los Angeles for years, but most recently the city has been an especially fertile ground for creativity in Hip-Hop. Be it the natural beauty of the coast and its beaches, the confluence of multiple cultures colliding and mutating in interesting ways, or just the easy access to the best marijuana in the world, Hip-Hop is enjoying a new renaissance in L.A., and it’s not just the locals who are leading the way.
Detroit native Chuck Inglish headed west in 2011, and that move’s influence has never been more evident in his music as it is on his new solo album Convertibles. The difference between the stripped-down, bass-heavy wallops that were a signature of his production as one half of The Cool Kids, and the live instrumentation–aided by co-producer Mike Einziger of Incubus fame–that is a common thread throughout the album, is vast. There are glitzy, disco-influenced dance numbers; shifty retro funk; and enough guests from different genres to make it a nightmare to tag.
Chuck Inglish needs Google Maps
At times, Convertibles feels like it’s being maneuvered by a drunk driver, making sharp, sudden turns and veering into unexpected places. Take the album’s first three songs, for example. The bouncy opener, “Elevators,” combines a smooth bass line with bright synth work and Polyester The Saint’s vocals. Next, the Mikey Rocks-featuring “Swervin’” calls to mind the classic Cool Kids sound, with stuttering percussion, and ’90s video game boss keys. Finally, “Legs” features Chromeo’s brand of tongue-in-cheek dance music that nods to the Studio 54 era, while winking at the listener. None of these three tracks make sense next to one another on paper, but they somehow work. The roller coaster ride continues throughout the album, but with almost as many lows as highs.
F*ck Yo’ Couch
Chuck’s nonchalant approach to rapping was a good counterpoint to his charismatic partner-turned-knight of the Jet Life round table, Sir Michael Rocks, but in many cases here he is overshadowed by guests or his own boisterous production. You almost wonder if he made his verse last on the Ab-Soul- and Mac Miller-featuring “Easily” on purpose, to give the listener an opportunity to skip ahead before the track’s energy tapers off. Action Bronson perks up ears just by listing meal ingredients in the beginning of his verse on the brief “Game Time.” While Chuck came through with one of his best verses of the album, it’s hard to compete with the Queens, N.Y., chef/stoner/philosopher. The Cool Kid fares better only when battling singers for song presence.
Sing for the Moment
Besides guest emcees, several singers join the Detroit native on Convertibles. Polyester The Saint, BJ The Chicago Kid, and Chromeo all make strong appearances, but the breezy relationship on the rocks riff, “Hurt You Back,” featuring Benny Cassette, may be the album’s high point. With a focused Chuck devoting his energies to simple but descriptive lyrics about romance lost and not just being cool, Benny Cassette’s warm vocals are the perfect complement. All of the guests add their own twist, but an album cannot live by guests alone.
Unfortunately, Chuck doesn’t add enough to this album vocally or lyrically to carry it alone. His voice rarely varies in timbre, volume, or intensity throughout. The lyrical content remains consistently in his wheelhouse, but nothing sticks with you past the time each song ends. Add to that some legitimately bad moments like “Mas O Menos,” and you have an album that relies way too much on its guests. Chuck Inglish is a talented producer, and a charismatic personality, but Convertibles suffers because of his lack of energy, and keeps an ambitious project from climbing out of the mire of mediocrity.