The replay value of rap songs can be influenced by many factors, including quality of production, lyrical talent, content, and how the various parts fit together to make a cohesive final product. Although radio stations steadily repeat tracks that may have great production (and maybe even some admirable lyricism), the content usually ends up in the “tried and true” category of topics that the majority of people can’t relate to – unless one has taken up a career as a hustler or exotic dancer. When a listener can find common ground with the main point a song is trying to make, that understanding will resonate with a listener and make the track hit them in a more personal way. This concept is something that Canadian emcee Classified seems to master in his latest album Handshakes and Middle Fingers, filled from start to finish with his perspective on real life issues to which the common middle class citizen can relate.

“Ups and Downs,” the introductory track, instantly draws in Classified’s audience as he introspectively admits some of his doubts or flaws over a melodic instrumental sans percussive elements. He then launches them full speed into the high energy “That Ain’t Classy,” letting listeners know he’s not the stereotypical flashy rapper. Class maintains this same level of honesty through the end of Handshakes and Middle Fingers, especially on “Passion” (which explores the forces that motivate him to keep following his dream), “Young Soul” (focusing on a man coming to terms with the fact that he’s aging), and “Step It Up“ (a how-to guide on making it in the music business).

Handshakes and Middle Fingers features few guest appearances, which is logical for a project so obviously personal, but the handful that do appear are worth noting. Slaughterhouse member Joe Budden stops by on “Unusual” to represent Shady 2.0, and trades verses with Classified over a piano-driven beat with a smoothly sung chorus, as he raps, “my sermon won’t be over ‘til church ends, my first Benz made me see I had the worst friends, meanwhile thought I was hangin’ with the same men, success ain’t never change me, but it changed them.” Underground heavyweight Brother Ali shows up to assist on “Maybe It’s Just Me,” which happens to be one of the more unique songs of the album as far as production is concerned. As a flute melody over Indian Tabla drums drive the song, Ali shows some versatility and switches up his flow a bit from his norm, hitting a zone for a few bars that could even be described as having rapid fire, aggressive delivery rather than his soulful usual.

Handshakes and Middle Fingers proves to be an overall solid effort, with varying production styles that keep it refreshing from start to finish, and the kind of honesty expressed through confidently delivered lyricism that would be very difficult not to respect. Juno-nominated Classified shows that Canada’s Hip Hop scene is alive and well, and reminds out-of-towners that it may be worth grabbing that passport to take a trip to the country to scope out the scene firsthand.

Purchase Hand Shakes & Middle Fingers by Classified