John Reuben has pushed the envelope for creativity in hip hop since his debut in 2000 with Are We There Yet?. While his breed of pop and rock flavored hip hop is more accessible to non-fans of the genre than actual hip hop listeners, Reuben has a craft and a process worth admiration. Word Of Mouth, the latest venture from the Ohio born and raised rapper, is a lean ten tracks of catchy pop hip hop tunes with lyrics to sink your teeth into. Unlike his mainstream counterparts, who mostly offer vacuous and mindless lyrical content, Reuben gives listeners something to dance to while providing lyrical content to ponder long after listening.
Word Of Mouth gets off to a lighthearted and raucous start with "Sing It Like You Mean It," a sort of anthem for the songwriter with an idealistic view of making it in the music world, sprinkling the track with bits of flavorings from the old West. John brings his mixture of catchy pop, honest and open lyrics, and boundary-breaking artistry back to the table for a blend that could best be described as a bit of everything from his past recordings with plenty new added in for good measure. The cynicism born on Professional Rapper and brought to fruition and showcased on The Boy Vs. The Cynic is present here again but in smaller doses. The packaging for Reuben's world viewpoints is less aggressive and a whole lot more fun. The blissfully upbeat moments on his previous installment are present moreso as accents for a song rather than part of its framework. "Trying Too Hard" is a funky track that smartly mixes a tongue-in-cheek look into the nightlife of the club scene and social acceptancy with Reuben's love for experimental pop.
While listening to a John Reuben record, one can't help but wonder who exactly the record is written for. Lyrically fashioned for those sick of shallow living and the mundane, and too musically diverse and unique for those just wanting to shut their brain off and hurl their body in rhythmic time to the music, I can't help but feel like Reuben's style may be too intelligent for his own good. However, the album's gem is easily the hopelessly fun and infectious "Make Money Money," a banjo-driven, southern-flavored hip hop tune with a chunky beat and throwback chorus that is likely to make Kid Rock red with jealousy. But the innovation and creativity doesn't end there. "Focus" takes almost a fairytale approach musically, dropping a tasty beat before too long to craft another standout album moment. The title track and first single for the record is the centerpiece, a call for creativity in music where every "new" thing seems to be rehashed and old hat. While the track drips with sarcasm, there's as much truth in Reuben's carefully spoken words, "Walking in circles retracing steps / How many ways can we package the concept / Mundane it's all the same... / Familiarity breeds content." Reuben is one of the few artists in the genre who you'll find can get away with speaking such truths because they're actually setting out to make a difference with their music rather than merely complaining about it.
Word Of Mouth runs on consistency. Although a slim ten tracks, there's no room for filler or a need for trimming. While the runtime may seem short at a glance, it's easily Reuben's most tightly assembled tracklist to date. "Miserable Exaggeration" is pensive and more melodic in presentation, while "Universal" opens with a beat and style that seems tired and overused by mainstream rappers before it breaks wide open into an ethereal chorus built around a choir of youthful voices with John leading the pack. Whether intentional or not, the mix of the familiar with the imaginative merely highlights why the more daring and risky songwriting can feel so freeing. "Curiousity" explores the grounding of faith while "Cool The Underdog" brilliantly uses theatrical measures (strings with an edgy guitar married beautifully) and more aggressive vocals (ala "Identify," from his debut) to attack his own cynical side with a "get over it" attitude. While his self-accusations could sadly apply to a good number of people in the church, it's refreshing to see Reuben be so honest and leave himself so vulnerable. The album then closes with the upbeat and party-friendly "Good Evening" that leaves the listener on a much lighter note.
Musically falling somewhere in between previous projects Hindsight and The Boy Vs. The Cynic (with being more focused and less bipolar thematically than the latter), Word Of Mouth is centered, risky, open, experimental, and innovative, keeping things fresh and thoughtful; clever and inviting. John Reuben has proven himself once again as an artist worth listening to -- and taking notes from. Word Of Mouth is certainly an album people should be talking about.- Review date: 2/4/07, written by John DiBiase
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