Published Jan 13, 2016Getting esteemed rap veterans like DJ Premier and Snoop Dogg to guest on your album is no small feat for any rapper, but it's all the more impressive for Classified. The producer and rapper has come a long way from his humble Nova Scotian origins, and he chronicles that journey on the outro of Greatful, his aptly titled new album.
It boasts several fantastic songs like "Filthy," which has rattling percussion and looped, high-pitched whistles that give it a schoolyard tomfoolery feel. That instrumental is elevated all the more by Premier's distinct, squeaky scratches, and Classified's clever lyrics about strutting "like a peacock in a fresh pair of Reeboks," after hilariously rhyming "asteroid" and "ass steroids." The Snoop-assisted "No Pressure" is equally fun, thanks to its sing-song, tightly looped piano notes and soaring horn blasts, all of which fit nicely with Classified's feel-good party rhymes. The Doggfather's verse is extremely brief and about as blasé as expected, though; Class would've sounded fine on the tune without the West coast vet.
Classified proves his battle rap chops over the operatic instrumental of midway track "Oh No," but the LP's best song by far is the David Myles-assisted "Work Away." That Fredericton-born, Halifax-based singer/songwriter has proven to be Classified's top collaborator ever since they teamed up for the 2013 hit "Inner Ninja," but "Work Away" is an even better pairing, as they tackle the all-too-familiar narrative of East Coasters packing up to work further west. The song succeeds thanks to its resilient skip-in-your-step beat, swaggering horns, Myles' smooth croon and Class' tirelessly optimistic lyrics.
On "Best," Class offers up fascinating details about playing in small town Ontario Legion halls, but before long the tribute track gets rather rambling as he rhymes off the names of countless managers, collaborators and agents. The last track, "Best of Me (Closing Ceremonies)," evokes Kanye West's early wrap-up "Last Call" with its role call-sprawl. Unfortunately, that lack of focus doesn't just hamper the album's final song, but some of the LP's other tracks, too.
"Beautiful Escape" has a by-the-numbers Top 40 aesthetic that's dull and clichéd, right down to the "wish upon a shining star" line in its chorus. Class then strives for the sort of lyrical nuance he attained with "Work Away" on "Having Kids is Easy" but fumbles with his jokey complaints about the trials of parenthood that, while refreshingly honest, also make him sound self-absorbed (Class, no one cares that you can't listen to your profanity riddled rap records when your little girls are at home).
At 16 tracks, such filler could have easily been trimmed from Greatful, to make career highlights like "Work Away" shine all the more. Hopefully Classified can better emphasize those stronger tracks on his next release. (Halflife Records/Universal)