Swizz Beatz Makes An Unlikely But Welcome Comeback With A Lively Shot Of ‘Poison’

Hip-Hop Editor
11.02.18

Epic Recods

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There’s a saying down south, “This is so good, it makes you wanna slap your mama.” Usually pertaining to food, it’s an expression of unusual enjoyment, such as a bite into a succulent, savory rack of slow-cooked ribs so heavenly and juicy and uncommonly delicious, the only possible reaction is one just as uncommon, as unthinkable. No one would slap their own mother unprompted, provided their mom isn’t, like, a complete monster. If anything is good enough to incite such a response, it’s out of this world.

Hip-hop is having a fantastic year in 2018. Despite myopic formalist humbugging and grumbles that there’s too much to keep track of from the online peanut gallery, rap music is currently in the middle of an explosion of talent and variety. Yet there was still one thing missing. For all the innovation and genre-bending and raw energy on display in the past 10 months worth of beats and rhymes, there wasn’t yet an album that could force that most magnified southern expression. Sheck Wes probably came closest, but even his excellent, energetic debut could still be nitpicked by purists for whom his bug-eyed, volcanic eruptions might have been too weird. But now, we have that album and it came from an unexpected source. It’s Swizz Beatz’ comeback after a decade of radio silence on the album front, it’s called Poison, and yes, it is so good, it will make you wanna slap your mama.

It’s perhaps unexpected and unusual because Swizz isn’t exactly well-known for his album-making prowess. It’s a bit of a running joke in rap circles online over the past few years that despite being a heralded hip-hop producer with over two decades of certified hits to his name, Swizz is best known for “ruining” songs, as both a rapper and as a producer. A top-level lyricist he is not; his exuberant ad-libs can inject a jolt of spastic energy into pretty much anything he yells “Got Dammit” over, but the last thing you wanted was for him to contribute a full verse. It was a thing for a while to find versions of songs just hours old with Swizz edited out; Kanye West’s GOOD Friday loosie “Lord, Lord, Lord” is a prime example.

His debut album, One Man Band Man sold less than 200,000 units in a year and received a mid-temperature welcome from music critics. It’s generally accepted that his “everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink” approach to soundscaping his clattering, cacophonous productions can result in breathtaking highs (T.I.’s “Bring ‘Em Out,” Beyonce’s “Upgrade U,” Cassidy’s “I’m A Hustla,” and DMX’s “Party Up“) and cringey misses (Jay-Z’s “Girl’s Best Friend“).

It’s when he tries to do less that he generally does the best, just check out Busta Rhymes’ “New York Sh*t” or Lil Wayne‘s recent viral smash, “Uproar,” for proof. Somewhere over the course of the past ten years, he seems to have figured out as much and put it in practice. Instead of tossing in every sound he can think of, he lets his production partners, AraabMuzik and Bink!, steer the car while he navigates with the help of executive producer J. Cole (!), conducting the action less through lyrics and callbacks to old-school hip-hop than through his own buoyant personality and trademark ad-libbing.

Maybe it’s all the time he’s spent in South Africa, where he’s soaked up the local culture and gqom music scene, incorporating certain tribal sounds on Poison, such as in the militant, looping sample on “Stunt” with 2 Chainz (if so, let’s all hope Kanye’s Uganda trip has a similar effect on Yandhi. It’s also where he debuted part of the Kendrick Lamar and The Lox-featuring “Something Dirty/Pic On Me,” which is my surefire pick for absolute banger of the year. Forget slapping your mama, the involuntary, guttural reaction to its looming, siren-like horn loop might just be to punch the nearest crackhead in the face. All the hood in you will jump out, unless you have none, in which case, several ounces of hood just might jump into you.

Among other feats on Poison, Swizz successfully resurrects the brief moment in 2006 when Jim Jones held the world in the palm of his hand and flicked his wrist skyward like Steph Curry on “Preach,” sparks latent hopes of a UK grime resurgence with Giggs on “Come Again,” and draws more pathos out of Nas in five minutes on “Echo” than Kanye did in seven tracks on Nasir.

The whole thing caps off with a triumphant, club-upending battle cry from French Montana on “Swizzmontana,” Swizzie’s chants sure to ring out from the throats of drunk, couch-standing revelers in darkened social spots from New York to its rival coast. Against all odds, Swizz Beatz has done the thing a great many of his production peers haven’t been able to do after extended runs in the rap game: Successfully reinvent his sound while staying true to the boisterous style that made his songs a staple of mid-2000s hip-hop. It’s ironic that all he needed to bring new life to hip-hop and his tenure within it was a shot of Poison.

Poison is out now via Epic Records. Get it here.

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