If picking potential influences from 1995 on today’s Hip-Hop, most fans would probably cite The Infamous as opposed to say a book by a pasty Brit about his failing small business and love life. Leave it to Donwill to think outside the box then, turning Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity (or, more appropriately the 2000 film adaptation) into a template for Don Cusack in High Fidelity. Despite the album’s odd origins, the subject matter fits right in to Hip-Hop in 2010 — 16 tracks of emo Hip-Hop, obscure pop culture references and clever wordplay.
The difference between this album and most concept Hip-Hop albums lies in Donwill’s allegiance to the original character, particularly in the album’s first half. Fans of the movie will recognize the subject matter of “Laura’s Song,” as well as Donwill’s lineup of exes in the breakup tale “Top 5.” Movie monologues make up the song’s transitions, providing extra context even if they bog down the album’s flow.
When the album works well, it succeeds on its strong Hip-Hop fundamentals, not its quirky subject matter. The production consistently augments the mood of the tracks, from the frenetic highs of “Love Junkie” to the somber keys of “December 27th.” And Donwill’s not slouching lyrically either. He builds clever metaphors on “Championship Vinyl,” touching on everything from love to Tanya Morgan’s own struggles breaking into the record industry.
Most tracks, however, are inspired by his muse “Laura.” He rues their break up in the tender, “Good.” He loses himself in various other women on “Pussy Rules the World.” And therein lays the central flaw of this album: the premise is ultimately too weak to sustain the entire project. Part of the fault lies in the source material: John Cusack’s sad sack hero doesn’t exactly lend himself to a deep analysis, yet Donwill keeps cranking out the tracks. None of them stand out as egregiously weak, but if you’re not a fan of the movie, it’s hard to sit through the entire album.
Nevertheless, fans of either High Fidelity or Tanya Morgan should dig the vibes without conflict. Just don’t expect to be smitten.