Connections matter, and when trying to break through in anything, it sometimes helps to know the right people. Willy Northpole could do much worse than DTP, as he attempts to break into mainstream Hip-Hop with the aptly named Tha Connect. With the support of Luda’s gang and a few key guest appearances from credible hitmakers (Ne-Yo, Tha Bizness) and underground up-and-comers (B.o.B,) the foundation should be set for success.
And it is, as Tha Connect has several elements of a good Hip-Hop album, particularly in terms of production. The beats balance consistency with range, from the grimey bass of “Body Marked Up,” to the old school jazz vibe of “Feeling Alright.” The infectious “Hood Dreamer,” anchors the album as a loud, bombastic summer anthem, while Willy channels his hunger into appropriate swaggerific rhyming.
Good foundations are important, but it don’t mean shit if it’s raining outside. Ultimately an album is a reflection of the MCs talents and that’s where Tha Connect fails. Willy may know 50 Cent and Ludacris, but he can’t rhyme like them. He descends to the basic far too often, repeating words and settling for the lowest common denominator. Moreover the flexible flow of the aforementioned “Hood Dreamer,” is fleeting—in fact more often Willy sounds like he’s reading someone else’s lyrics aloud. He has almost no concept how to use his voice as a musical instrument. Whether lack of effort or skill, makes questionable tracks like the boring “hey-I-stayed-at-50-Cent’s-house” boast of “The Story,” excruciating to get through. His nonchalant flow even derails otherwise choice tracks like the upbeat “Vegas Nights,” in which Willy wastes a great choral performance by falling asleep at the wheel.
Lack of talent isn’t Willy’s only problem, as a severe lack of originality in topical content pervades his album. There’s the token player girl anthem (“#1 Side Chick.”) There’s the dead homies’ song (“Heaven.) There’s even an attempt at shocking satire on “Ghetto Tour Guide,” where Willy points out neighborhood crack dealers to shocked white people on a metaphorical tour bus. Dear Mr. Northpole, it may have been with good intentions but it was a lot better when Ice Cube did it nearly two decades ago.
Formulaic Hip-Hop in 2009 may get a pass if you can bring some rhyming skils, but poorly executed Hip-Hop won’t get you very far — no matter who your connect is. If Willy wants to truly relate with Hip-Hop fans, he needs to hit up 50 or Luda for some MC lessons.