Malik Yusef has a lot to say. More accurately, he has a limited amount
of topics he wants to discuss but he uses a hell of a lot of words to
do so. Over two discs, thirty tracks, and nearly two and a half hours
Yusef discusses Women, Jesus, Women, Sex, Women, Jesus, and Sex. On a
third of the album he manages to speak thoughtfully and interestingly
on these topics, unfortunately that still leaves twenty songs that all
sound very much alike and not very distinctive. This
double album is a prime example of the need for editing in music today,
just because an artist has dozens of tracks doesn’t mean they all
deserve to be released. Yusef has enough decent material to make up a
compact, enjoyable ten track album.

First it is important to
address the way in which Malik Yusef presents himself on this album. He
is better known as a spoken work artist but ironically it is the tracks
where Yusef abandons his “spoken word delivery” that are most
enjoyable. This is not often though. Yusef seems to think delivering
his lyrics in a slowed down spoken word style makes them more
impactful. But it is quite the opposite, his lyrics actually seem to
get simplified and overly cliché when he uses the more traditionally
poetic intonation. Also, a the poetic delivery may work wonderfully
when unaccompanied but in the context of a Hip Hop record the delivery
rarely suits the beat and the resulting pairing is awkward. And a Hip Hop record is what this is, despite the fact that the artist is better
known as a poet. When Yusef chooses to fully commit to rapping he has a
serviceable flow. He would be well served to stick with it when he
makes records, and save the spoken word flow for the stage.

With
an album this long it would be impossible to touch on every song or
even most songs in the space of one review. So taking a cue from the
album it is probably easiest to address all this material in two
halves: what works and what doesn’t. Starting with what works we have
track such as “V.E.R.S.E.”, co-produced by Yusef and Devo Springsteen.
The track is light and energetic. Its production feels organic; it
comes across like a real rap song and not just a backing track behind a
poet. In this same mold is “By Your Side”, a bright, poppy song. The
chorus is a little corny but it’s sung with a charming enthusiasm by
Michelle Williams and Yusef sounds engaged, his lyrics are purposeful
and not generic, as they occasionally have the tendency to be. When
Yusef sounds committed the album really comes together. This happens on
“Yugo” and “My, My”. The former features a propulsive beat and wheezing
synths courtesy of Jes Tone and Yusef sounds angry and menacing. The
latter is a great shit talking cut with a faux- Curtis Mayfield
falsetto chorus. At other points on the album guest rappers show up to
steal the track from under the headliner. “U-N-I Verses Mine” is
dominated by Twista who provides a sharp verse and catchy chorus, his
nimble flow sharply contrasting with Yusef‘s more deliberate style. And
Bun B delivers a typically confident verse with his guest spot on “Da
Slumz”. That track as well as “Chicago” and “Not Love” feature some of
Yusef‘s best writing because on these tracks he is dealing with
specifics and not generalities. “Not Love” is a particularly strong
track produced by AVO with a soulful hook with a chipmunk soul sample
and nostalgic lyrics about “The little cut-off shorts that I was
dressed in/All the friendship and candy that I would invest in/I didn’t
have to wear a vest then/Didn’t have to worry about my best
friend/Stabbing me in the back or caving my chest in
.” When Yusef deals
in concrete details he really shines, unfortunately so much of the
album is taken up by tired, lover-man clichés.

But before
getting to that there is the matter of the man who has the
co-headlining honors with Yusef. Really Kanye is only on two tracks and
his name on the cover is there to draw in his fans in order to get them
to check out Yusef‘s music. The two tracks that ‘Ye does grace with his
production and vocals are ok, but not worthy of his previous heights.
“Promised Land” is set firmly in 808’s territory; its icy, spare
production is a good respite from many of the album’s cluttered, busy
tracks. “Magic Man”, a G.O.O.D. music meeting of the all stars
featuring West, Common, and John Legend, is okay but definitely minor
Kanye, a simple beat with nice flourishes like layered vocals from
Legend on the chorus. But Yusef does bring some of his best lyrics:
She wanted work but wouldn’t put in any actual hours/Her and dude has
the keys to supernatural powers/So she still with this new guy/Who
could supple that white tiger like Siegfried and Roy
.”

Unfortunately Yusef doesn’t show that creativity and playfulness on the
albums slower tracks, of which there are (too) many. It would take too
long to address each track but that isn’t really necessary as what is
wrong with one is also wrong with the rest. Whether it be
“Breathtaking”, “Just Like Forever”, “Too Knight”, “Hit It Again”,
“G.E.M.”, or one of the other each track features a sleepy beat, one
that is uninteresting but somehow manages to still sound cluttered. And
Yusef‘s lyrics are cliché and at times nonsensical and silly. The
tracks are filled with nondescript lover-man talk, the type of smooth
talk that is more likely to elicit a laugh rather than a blush. For
example, “Jesse was wrong for her there is no fucking hope/Because I am
so fucking dope/And she is addicted to the liquid that I inject her
with
” or “Ya’ll have her behaving with the head of a chicken/But I can
get her to spread eagle/Now she’s my fly girl and I curl her toes/Only
heaven knows since we so close to it
.” The record really starts to drag
over the course of it’s already long running time as the listener gets
hit again and again with the same basic track, all too slow, all filled
with banal, ABAB rhymes. Take out 90% of these tracks and the album
would be a better listen. But those aren’t the worst tracks on the
record, those would be “The Return”, a childish exercise in running
the “come” innuendo into the ground (then dig it up, shoot it, and bury
it again), and “Pop U Layer” a rap-pop-rock hybrid that sounds like it
could be used as the theme song to some awful CW teen show.

Malik Yusef is not a boring artist, but his over reliance on love songs
can at time give him the appearance of one. At times he shows bursts of
creativity. A track like “Sexuality”, a hip-house throw back, proves
that he can be spontaneous and fun. Next time out if Yusef can be more
strict when it comes to editing down his material he could potentially
release an album that leaves the listener wanting more and not less.