It's the stormy yin-yang inside of C-Rayz Walz that makes him so great. He's one-half bravado thug, one-half concerned parent. All of the conflicts that go with that combo come out loud and clear on his recordings, and he's always pushing to be a better person. To add to all this, he's value-conscious and releases EPs that are 40 minutes long. Calling it an EP keeps We Live: The Black Samurai from being considered the official follow-up to his great Ravipops full-length. Perhaps it's because We Live doesn't have the cohesion Ravipops did, the jump from the 2Pac-ish "Single Mothers" to the thug love "Amore" being the best example of the record's choppiness. They're both top-notch tunes, "Amore" especially with its stick-in-yer-head "She loves me/She loves me not/She loves me on the block with rocks in my socks" chorus. The great "We Live" offers a vivid picture of a hood where the "ambulances take too long" and the playful "Trudeau" cheekily borrows McDonald's "I'm lovin' it!" jingle. It's easy to see why Walz needed to get these fantastic tracks out, even if they didn't fit together perfectly. Putting "EP" on the cover keeps the collection from being over-judged, but hopefully won't keep it from being overlooked.
Reviewed by: Shawn Lawrence James
When the lyricist known as C-Rayz Walz (pronounced see-ray-zee-walls) released his 2003 debut, Ravipops (The Substance) he instantly became the carnivorous cynosure of the indie powerhouse known as Definitive Jux. Known for its famished demeanor and an argosy of sick instrumentals, the album collected praise from the underground circuit and some encomiums love from rap critics, but failed to ring a bell with the average Hip-hop consumer. Always moving with the rhythm of consistency, the Bronx bred rapper returns with his second set We Live: The Black Samurai EP, (Definitive Jux) a guide taking listeners through the labyrinths of his NY state of mind.
Riding with a cohort of producers which includes Dub-L, and DJ Static amongst others, the album opens with an up-tempo, 20 second Opening Ceremony instrumental (which also serves as the Closing Ritual) that sounds more like a snippet from a Chinese New Years festival than to be kicking off a Rap album. The latter was proceeded with the Belief produced We Live. The track, which is a revised version from his debut, is a fine piece of work that has C Rayz hopping over stumbling drum patterns with ease while dropping jewels to anybody who is willing to listen. From the generalization of his people he concentrates his focus even further to his sistas in the struggle on the shadowy Single Mothers. This track is an instant standout because he uses incredible imagery in his signature slur to construct a landscape that almost mirrors their reality while sending out his condolences. From showing love to the baby mamas he makes the conscious decision to walk around with one of his own on the boy-meets-girl stamped Amore. This joint has C-Rayz showing his affectionate side while spitting cheesy one liners like Guess what just came out? [What?] Your smile The tone eventually stiffens up when one is confronted with the somber 3 Card Molly where Cave Precises drums intensifies with every verse laid superjacent to C-Rayz regret ridden words that actually sounds like a eulogy reminiscing on his loved ones.
As with his last outing at mainstream, C-Rayzs sound clearly is far from universal. The eclectic mash of Rain Forever may be too complex for the average TRL teenie. But for those willing to accept his music for what its worth (including the ridiculously short beat intermissions that soak up 1/3 of the disc) The Black Samurai EP is a delicious appetizer for those craving food for thought in between his full length LPs.
Like with Dada artists of then-warmongering Germany, and like so much contemporary political art from the now-warmongering US of A, C-Rayz Walz tends to take refuge in a jokester’s mentality because, it seems, sometimes you just have to laugh when things get so bad. Walz raps almost exclusively about life in urban ghettoes but injects many of his gloomy songs with strong overtones of hope and humor, maintaining a friction that prevents his records from charges of one-dimensionality (“moody,” “angry”). But, paradoxically, that acts as a trap. The stance all but refutes the potential for the focused, epic sound perfected by his label mates Cannibal Ox.
Not that C-Rayz necessarily needs to change his act. We Live shows no evidence of any great progression or downfall from a rapper who, at the very least, is consistently decent. The EP is more of the same hyper-inflection of a phrase’s final word, more grimly goofy rhymes like, “On Fordham Road/ Three-Card Molly/ Fucking up the icy man/ In front of everybody!” and more sentimentality, which is probably C-Rayz’s greatest weakness. There’s no doubt, for instance, that his ashcan-school depiction of single motherhood on “Single Mothers” is sincere and honest, but the “We are the World”-style chorus slaps on the paint a bit thick.
We Live has some highlights, especially the Chinese-pop sample of “Showgun” and the head-nodding, old-school bass propulsion of “Crayzeerock.” But the EP’s utter consistency with previous C-Rayz outings begs the question of whether his highly developed signature style may be inherently limiting.