The tongue-twisting alliteration, high-caliber energy and visions of a bold newcomer that was present on 2005’s “Alphabetical Slaughter”, where now thirty-seven year old Papoose ran rhymed words from A-Z with a Talib Kweli-like finesse, and its eight minute and twenty-four minute sequel where he went in reverse alphabetical order, “Alphabetical Slaughter II: Z-A”, is all but gone on his sophomore album, You Can’t Stop Destiny. Instead of the wild vibe raging in Brooklyn and Bedford-Stuyvesan native Shamele Makie’s inflection, as it did in the previously mentioned works and when he first burst on the scene in 1998 on “Home Sweet Funeral” from Kool G. Rap’s Roots of Evil LP, we are presented with someone mostly bored with their craft on his most recent effort. After “Alphabetical Slaughter” got him signed to Jive Records with a 1.5 Million Dollar deal, his current work showcases a man simply going through the motions, punching the clock with none of the vigor and inventiveness which got him his job in the first place simply because of a contractual obligation to do so. His voice has become mostly a monotone whimper, his lyrics are the usual assortment of repetitive hooks, mob allusions and braggadocio tainted hints at a toughness that his coy, “please just buy my album” demeanor present throughout You Can’t Stop Destiny and its thirteen tracks and increasingly painful thirty-nine and a half minutes doesn’t back up. The sense of a purely underground artist to get excited about, that we once glimpsed a decade ago, has vanished once a profit was secured and, sadly, what we get is no more than the artificial and stripped down to almost nothing simplicity in most of the songs’ by the numbers production, content, sound and style of a Cash Money Records artist without quite the heavy emphasis on materialism and just a hint of a higher vocabulary and unlike Kweli, and all the various underground greats, there is not a single quotable line to be found anywhere in this desperate endeavor. That is a crime unto itself for someone who started out with such promise as an emcee.
The problems begin immediately on the two-minute and fifty-second, Ron Brownz produced, “The Bank”. Papoose tries in vain to astonish us as he did in “Alphabetical Slaughter” with an enjoyably quick flow throughout. Alas, it is all a smoke screen to hide how empty what he is actually saying is as Mackie goes through what is essentially an uber-polished battle rhyme with no substance whatsoever. As the static-driven crackle of the slowed-down, and fair two minute and forty-seven second, “You Ain’t Built Like That”, gives way to Havoc’s routine beat work on the equally indecipherable from any other clichéd threats of being a ‘gangster’, and all the well-exhausted imagery and vague taunts that come with it, in the Troy Ave featured (another of the LP’s already much apparent wrong-headed moves and blemishes) “Mobbing”, the formula is well in place to create temporary, and ultimately forgettable, hits that are meant to win people over by giving us time tested content over a sparse, garden variety groove and mumbling the same few words to compose a refrain.
“The Plug”, with multi-layered production that includes scratching and almost hints of a Country song at times from DJ Premier that is among the most robust and lively in the entire album, is when these systematic ingredients for a commercial track work the best. The metaphor Papoose could’ve taken, ran with and delivered a genuine dazzler with on this track is that, as he says on the hook, “I’m the plug/ Everything running through me”. That simple phrase could’ve been well enough to describe the energy he puts into his craft, seeing himself as the item mentioned in the song and how he brings everything to life, like electricity, in so doing. Instead he goes through the usual “Big cars/ Big cribs” mentions which leads to a tired narrative of violence and drug selling. It’s far more impressive than the half-dead tracks which populate most of the album space, especially considering that the godawful Ron Browz produced conceptual and lyrical disaster of affirming marital love which is “Michael Jackson” (and features equally dull turns from Papoose’s wife, Remy Ma, and Ty Dollar Sign) comes immediately afterwards and presents the LP’s low-point, and it becomes a record highlight by default.
The sonic cookbook of half-hearted constituents mentioned above comes back into play, after the anguish of “Michael Jackson” mercifully leaves our ears, on the DJ Tip constructed tracks, “I Wish a …. Would”, “Team Us”, and in the inane execution of “You Draggin’ It” (a song about making things far more protracted than they should be which, by turn, summarizes the audiences feelings by the time they get to this tenth tune perfectly). We bear witness to Papoose going through the motions he thinks will sell records again on the eighth track, “Revenge” (featuring clueless verses from Maino and Red Café and a satisfyingly menacing bass thump from G.U.N. Productions) and where an infectiously sinister Gemcrates bit of production is wasted in exchange for pedestrian rhymes on the second to the last record, “Illuminati”.
It isn’t that these songs aren’t completely intolerable, a la “Michael Jackson”, but nothing about them showcases a fear inside Mackie to step out of his comfort zone and break new ground. We may bob our heads on occasion, as this is music which is more about the attitude and beats than anything considering ground-breaking content or even crafty wordplay, but inside we hear the standard gears of formulaic rap clicking into place. With all of the previously mentioned tunes, with the exception of but the three minute and thirty-six second “Revenge”, with a median of about two and a half minutes collectively, credit must be given for the fact that they don’t overstay their welcome. In so doing, it helps keep the vigor of these tracks in check. With the meticulous description of a physically and symbolically crumbling city in the unusually fantastic A.G. featured and Showbiz produced gem “Everything to Gain” sandwiched in between these songs, the overall experience of hearing these tracks back to back is semi-listenable.
On “Global Warming Part 2”, Papoose tries to replicate the creativity and breakneck speed of both “Alphabetical Slaughter” songs with head-scratchingly inane results. With the relaxed, melodic and smooth melody provided from G.U.N. Productions it gives the emcee a perfect canvas to give us something as dazzling as the two 2005 works which got him his deal. Instead the concept is as wrong-headed as the rest of the album as Mackie goes through various states and locations and rhymes stilted slogans about them. The air of desperation is pungent and palpable on this eleventh tune on the album’s track placement that makes lines like “In Delaware/ Well aware/ I’m a Florida slaughterer/ Push the Porsche in Georgia/ In Hawaii I’m godly” temporarily listenable, and it is made clear that this is a freestyle and that adds to its edge of impressiveness, but we cannot deny that by giving us an idea so similar to “Alphabetical Slaughter”, Mackie was simply trying to re-ignite the fire which sparked his career with just a slight differentiation on the idea (i.e. places instead of letters). It only adds to the well-worn sensation this album cements into the listener and when we get to the only time Mackie exposes any real depth or introspection on the final song, “Obituary 2014”, a catalogue of the deaths and summarization of their lives that occurred in the year of the tune’s title that isn’t as impactful as it may sound and which is made all the more mediocre by sporting forgettable orchestration from G.U.N. Productions, we almost hear scratching off this last item in the ‘Everything the Average Rap Album Must Have’ check-list than anything approaching emotion or inspiration.
It’s this overall impression that carries itself from track to track on You Can’t Stop Destiny. There is little genuine passion, just as scant concern for breaking ground as we know he is capable of and the whole endeavor is distant, methodical and makes us wonder why we even bothered. The concepts are save for the final moments and they give just as much of a rehashed impression as your standard ego and violence fare that makes up about ¾ of the LP. If Mackie may have kept up with the energetic inflection he presented in both “Alphabetical Slaughter” entries, which he tunes into in the first track and mostly abandons, and injected some shred of unique personality or charisma, or even the occasional play on words into his bars, his audience may be better suited to see him as the lyricist he obviously thinks of himself as. There is nothing here to stir the soul, make you think or even any genuine invention and no logical reason for anyone to seek this sonic waste of shelf space out.
You may not be able to stop ‘destiny’ but you can stop yourself from even considering giving Papoose’s latest a single spin. At least that is one thing I can come away from this album knowing and feeling changed by. Nearly everything else present within the full-length endeavor any artist with or without talent, or even anyone who has heard a couple rap songs on the radio, can concoct with their eyes closed. This makes You Can’t Stop Destiny more of a testament to how tired Papoose’s formula is than anything resembling the prophetic fate of a man who was born to be a legendary emcee than such a title suggests.