When you do a point-by-point breakdown, comparisons between Gnarls
and Monster Maker seem inevitable. Like Danger
, DC-based producer Sharkey has received
critical acclaim working both on his own (his solo debut, Sharkey’s Machine,
was ranked one of the Washington Post‘s Top 10 albums of the year) and
with artists ranging from Grand Puba and Jean Grae
to Eminem and Public Enemy. Like Cee-Lo,
Bronx native C-Rayz Walz is a respected emcee whose crew, Stronghold,
has never achieved commercial success commensurate with its talent, and who has
received more notoriety for guest spots with like-minded artists such as Cannibal
and Aesop Rock. But most importantly, like Gnarls
‘s trailblazing St. Elsewhere, Monster Maker‘s
debut is a genre-defying concept album that blurs the lines dividing Hip Hop,
alt-rock, electro-funk and techno, creating a wholly unique sound influenced by
seemingly everyone and comparable to no one… except, of course, Gnarls

The concept, as expressed explicitly on the Sly Stone-meets-Andre
opener, “This Ol’ Twisted World,” is that the turbulent nature of
our modern society turns even the most inherently good-natured of humans into
monsters, whether they be of the boogeyman variety or just a vicious emcee
hell-bent on tearing up the mic. C-Rayz Walz proves to be the
latter, cathartically releasing two years of frustrations that included record
label woes, poor album sales, losing most of his possessions, firing his
manager, a tour falling through, his brother getting killed and baby mama drama
that left him without a visit with his son for months. Pushed close to the edge
of losing his damn mind, Walz clearly found release in
collaborating with Sharkey, and the duo’s debut feels like a
pressure cooker of a party record determined to let off steam.

“I can’t bow down/ Or toss the crown/ Lose the fight?/ Nah, I only lost
the round,”
Walz raps with his Sadat X-like
nasal flow on “My
,” sounding every bit like the scrappy underdog he is. On the
anthemic “Pain
to the Picture
,” he hits even harder, fiercely attacking the mic
over a dense percussive backdrop that uses strings, piano and samples to
rollicking effect. The blatant crossover attempt of “Electric Avenue” reinvents
Eddy Grant‘s reggae-pop classic with descriptive lyrics
painting a vivid picture of the modern concrete jungle: “Out in the street
there’s violent beats/ Helicopter birds, rhino Jeeps/ Scuffed-up shoes from
tyrant’s feet/ No peace when the wino speaks.”
But it’s on riveting
sociopolitical tracks like the dub-influenced “Might She Shoot” and
hard-hitting boom-bap tracks like the off-kilter “That Moment Before Crazy”
(featuring Vast Aire) that the pairing of Sharkey
and C-Rayz Walz proves most effective.

The album is definitely not for everyone- those with closed minds need not
apply. But for listeners always on the lookout for that next-level shit that
blazes new trails and expands the boundaries of Hip Hop in the process, this
album is a monster made by two ultra-creative cats clearly determined to change
the status quo.