Frustrated by the hook driven hedonism currently dominating urban radio? Mr. J. Medeiros may have just the cure for you. A couple of spins of the rap activist’s predictably politically correct new disc Friends Enemies, Apples Apples, and the bet here is you’ll rediscover your taste for Gucci Mane’s lemonaid.
It’s not that Medeiros’ messages of female empowerment and personal upliftment don’t provide vital counter balance to hip-hop’s bullet testosterone fueled gun show. They absolutely do. It’s that too often, they are rendered with generic cliches and self-conscious heavy handedness. “W.A.N.T.S.” opens with a story of child abuse, that, in one verse hits all the plot points of an after school special, or “very special episode” of any ‘80s sitcom. Pretty much every conscious rapper of the past decade has recorded an anti-violence lament in the vein of “On My Own,” most with more originality, or a least more energy. “Holding On” hits all the requisites marks for emo melodrama, highlighted by a tender hook by Tara Ellis, but ultimately Medeiros’ thin voice and tentative delivery keep the track from resonating as much more than atmospheric background music.
Medeiros does have some moments of inspiration as an MC, and they usually coincide with the album’s more robust production. The heavy drums and Dilla-esque keys on “Left Me” provide the album’s lone speaker rattling moment, and Medeiros responds by settling into the beat and unleashing his most forceful flow to tell stories of internal exploration. Likewise, the stuttered drums and urgent keys of “Smile,” coax a rapid fire flow out of Medeiros reminiscent of early Kweli. Unfortunately, most of the tracks tend to meander through a mid-tempo malaise of spooky keyboards and open spaces which focus too much attention on his nondescript voice and over emotive affectations.
Medeiros means well, and seems to possess at least modest talent both as a rapper and producer, just not the sort of game changing genius to single handedly save the the rap world from its vices and excesses, which seems to be what “Friends, Enemies, Apples, Apples Apples” is going for. Maybe next time, he’ll be content to just make good, positive music. Until then, there’s always that new Drake record on the radio. Literally, there’s always that new Drake record on the radio.