Last August, a routine sojourn to Richmond, California nearly turned deadly for Keak Da Sneak, the legendary rapper from neighbouring Oakland: he was ambushed by a gun-wielding stranger. Press coverage was sympathetic, but elided a core irony of the shooting. Keak Da Sneak is functionally harmless, a backslapping court jester whose natural gaiety could disarm even the stodgiest curmudgeon. What would possess anyone to try to hurt him?
It's a thorny question to which Keak Da Sneak pays little mind on Withdrawl, his 24th studio album. With most other rappers, the spectre of mortality would hang like a veil over their every word, but not Keak. On Withdrawl, he administers a tonic to a world benighted by tragedy. His mission, for lack of a better word, is the same as it's always been: to spread good cheer.
From a purely sonic standpoint, Withdrawl is sparse, sterilized clean and friskily percussive — in other words, very much in keeping with what you might expect from one of the founding fathers of hyphy. (A more contemporary analog might be DJ Mustard.) Many songs, "Cuz Blood" and "Kill it Again" among them, borrow promiscuously from 1980s funk, the music of Keak's youth. This is not a replicable algorithm; the average rapper is too wooden and rhythmically challenged to sound at home on these beats. Here again, Keak Da Sneak differs sharply from the rest of the pack; his flow is playfully limber, a magic bullet to get the crowd jumping. (Zoo Entertainment/EMPIRE)