I’ll be honest: I just don’t listen to a whole lot of rap music these days. I have nothing against the genre: four of my top ten favorite albums on my Stylus Decade ballot were rap/hip-hop records. And there’s some genuinely interesting stuff that pops up from time-to-time on great hip-hop blogs like the Passion of the Weiss, and even our dear Editor posts some novel Latin rap on occasion. But again, for the most part, the pure amount of time per week that I spend listening to rap music probably amounts to no more time than the length of an average St. Louis Cardinals game (by the way, have you seen Albert Pujols this season? Good Christ.). But I’m not here to waste any more of your time discussing my listening habits, or to extrapolate these changes into a dissection of the “State of Hip-Hop.” No, we’re here to discuss the latest album from Anita Tijoux.
Tijoux’s back-story is pretty familiar and kind of interesting actually. Daughter of a French national and Chilean ex-pat, who was in exile during the Pinochet coup d’état, who then returned to Chile upon the dictator’s supplanting, where she then discovered rap music as a teenager, subsequently devoting her life to honing her craft through her association with various South American hip-hop groups, finally breaking into a solo career around 2006, which was also the year that she received her biggest boost in publicity by guest-rapping on Julieta Venegas’ mega-successful single “Eres Para Mí.”
Her debut album, Kaos, was a mild success, but ultimately got lost in the scene. Her latest is titled 1977, which is also the year of her birth, and as such a title would seem to allude to, it’s a very personal record. Within the record are stories about death, family, conflicts, and writer’s block, and some of these topics are finely detailed and enlightening. But musically, it’s a bit stunted. Take the album’s intro, which basically sounds like a whole rip of a Thievery Corporation interlude—sounds great when you’re ordering a Rob Roy in a cigar bar, but not when you’re trying to pump up your audience for a personality-driven rap record. 1977 occasionally falls back into these faux-cosmopolitan traps, where sleek MOR keyboards, dim drum machines, and light guitar licks attempt to punctuate some sort of beat but really just take away from Tijoux’s genuinely appealing flow. Such an approach can work on a Pacha Massive record, where the vocals are not entirely essential, but Tijoux is too good to be buried in what’s essentially the aural equivalent of strawberry cocktail mix.
There are certainly some bright moments to be had on this album, however. “Partir de Cero” has a catchy mechanized sample, and Tijoux’s wordplay is in great form, and doesn’t even lose much paunch when the guitar lick becomes pronounced and the inevitable record scratching starts to envelop the track. “Crisis de un MC” has a sleek little beat, and captures the effortless, easygoing style that artists like la Mala Rodriguez do so well, and I’m sure that Tijoux was attempting to recreate on 1977. And “Oulala” has a few genuine jazz hints and sonic flourishes that may be the best soundscape on this record. The tail end of the album are essentially The World According to Anita, and are very well-written, but then…the same old musical issues.
And really, that’s the big problem. Anita Tijoux is an obvious talent, and seems to have a lot of dedication to her craft. But great rap music requires more than a great flow and personal ambition, it requires sonic diversity, and until these beats gain a bit more substance, her music will still feel incomplete. Hopefully by the time that happens, my rap listening schedule will be a bit more substantive.