the truth on this beat, man, you’re going to make me tell the truth,’” he says with a laugh, pointing out that the song is a catalogue of past misdeeds framed as a plea for forgiveness. “I let loose a lot of the things. I’m saying too much on that song, man, entirely too much.” The track finishes with a stirring confession, spoken as the music fades into nothingness. “Damn,” Yates mutters. “To the people who love me, I apologize for me back then. I was intoxicated, I was on drugs, and now there’s a new me.” Something Else is a meditation on the world today, seen through the prism of Yates’ own experiences and desires. And, like the society in which we live, his humanity is rife with contradictions. On some songs Yates positions himself as an omniscient force for good; on others, like “I Am Not A Saint,” he seems almost helpless to stop the chaos unfolding around him. “I love it because that’s human,” he says. “We’re imperfect, you know what I mean? There’s just that duality, good and bad, and I’ve always had it — and I love my music to be human. I don’t like it to be perfect because I am imperfect as a man, you know what I mean? I don’t claim to be perfect.” After a pause he continues, “this album is as close to perfect as I can get. The next one will probably be even more perfect. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach total perfection, but we’ll see.”
Photo: courtesy of Strange Music Inc
The lyrics on Something Else are, like the man who wrote them, contradictory and confusing, aware of the fragility of human life yet fearlessly aspirational. Frightening scenes from the streets of Los Angeles repose alongside pleas for a ceasefire in the interest of humanity. These ideas are also reflected in the beats themselves. Some are straightforward rap beats; others deliberately reach into new territory, particularly the grungy sound
of modern rock and roll. Yates thinks of himself as a musical egalitarian, a point he drives home by telling a story about a karaoke bar. “When I’m drunk in the bar, doing karaoke and singing ‘Freebird,’ I’m the only black dude in there,” he says. “And the white folks in there are looking at me like, what the hell? That’s normal to me but abnormal to the other person seeing me in gang attire singing ‘Freebird’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd.” Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Yates likes singing Lynyrd Skynyrd songs in karaoke bars. After all, he recruited a slew of unusual collaborators to work on Something Else. The album features appearances by a number of hip hop luminaries, including T-Pain, Wiz Khalifa, Cee Lo Green, and the Game. But it also includes parts by the aforementioned newscaster Alford, Serj Tankian of System of a Down, and music by the Doors. “I don’t try to genre-bend,” Yates says. “It’s just something I’ve always done. I love different types of music, so if these beats come to me, this is what I’m going to do. It’s not something I try to do, [have] Serj Tankian on this song and then have the Doors on that song and then have some gangsta ass s**t, with Trae tha Truth and Red Café and Big Scoob. It’s like this is just me being the clusterf**k I am, and I love it.” The sheer variety of sounds on Something Else makes listening to the album a lot of fun. Yates is good at exploring new ideas without it feeling forced or gratuitous. His unmistakable voice and unflinching honesty are the two constants, keeping the album on course whenever a barrage of sound threatens to detail it. After the horrorshow of the first section, Something Else moves into more placid territory. The second section, titled “Water,” is about simple pleasures; Yates characterizes it as a meditation on sex and dancing and money. “I like my albums to calm down if they start off hot, you know what I mean?” he laughs. “It landed in fire — boom! — where everything is dark, and then it gets calmer with sex and the things that people love. When you get to ‘Earth,’ I made that my heavenly level.” The last section is dominated by “Believe,” a final benediction for anyone who has survived the apocalypse and the garden of earthly delights.
“If you can believe it can get better, than it will get better,” Yates says of “Believe,” which casts his meditative rap verses against a rousing chorus sung by Kortney Leveringston. “I say some real serious stuff in there. Stuff like, ‘Racism is passed down and gay gives them mad frowns / But how they live and laugh now should be they biz and last sound from crass clowns.’ And ‘People should be free to be together / Should be free to be whatever you can see that we can better / When we give respect is good in any language.’ Respect goes far in any language, know what I’m saying? It’s a real thing man.” Something Else is sometimes a difficult record to figure out, but “Believe” drives home the idea that the world can be whatever we want it to be, and that humanity can extricate itself from the mess of the twenty-first century. Yates may think of himself as a walking, talking, rapping contradiction, but songs like “Believe” rise far above the fire and the brimstone, showing that at least one of his beliefs is unassailable. Something Else is much more than a long rap album packed with searing beats, musical experiments, and brooding lyrics; it is a reflection of Yates’ idea that people can come together to extinguish racism and hatred and fear, and that music is a conduit for understanding. “That’s how I would truly love to see the world,” he says. “It’s in disarray right now, know what I mean, and it’s been that way for awhile and it’s getting worse. So my wish, and that’s what Mark Alford said in the last skit, is that this burgundy mist would spread everywhere, for the better of mankind, and make a better place for all of us to live.” Being contradictory, a rapper who can talk about violence and poverty and hope and faith in a single sentence, might be against the rules. But Yates has never really had much patience for rules, anyway. Tech N9ne August 23 @ The Odeon Events Centre $35+ @ The Odeon Box Office Feedback? Text it! (306) 881 8372
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Verb Issue S253 (Aug. 16-22, 2013)