Cunabear – w0nky – Album Review
I’ve had a chance to sit and really get into this album over this past week or so. I keep coming back to the fact that it’s made with a tremendous amount of inventive-ideas and innovation, with an awesome modern-update to an old-school vibe…but will the people ‘get it?’ I really don’t know to tell you the truth…I mean…I’d hope they would…I know I love music like this that pushes the boundaries creatively and challenges what we know about a genre – it’s really not every day that you get an album like w0nky coming your way. An artist like Cunabear speaks just as much through the humor and samples added-in as he does through spitting it all out directly – and you get a great mix of both here on this new record.
I’ll admit…the layered-vocal approach to rap isn’t one that often works for me. I think that the rap-game and sub-genres that belong to its family tree almost always have something to really say…and I think to mix & muddle that up with production & various effects shading those words is a risk to whatever the message might be, no matter which artist is using them. So when Cunabear starts out w0nky with “Slum Village” – I already have concerns…but at the same time, it seems as if 95% of what he’s saying can be heard clearly-enough…so I took it with an immediate grain of salt. What I could hear easily…were messages that reflected insightful comments on society, mixed-in with innovative music and a debate on what rap-music should or shouldn’t be. It seemed to go for ideas or concepts built on the strengths of challenging our minds just as much as our ears…and I dig that.
Besides the layers – you can also certainly hear the skill in his rhymes as Cunabear raps confidently on the following track “May The Metaphors Be With You” in addition to what we heard in the opening cut. It’s a short track, as many of them are on Wonky, and with his flow streaming-out with increased intensity & speed meeting the absolutely amazing sample/beat combination on “May The Metaphors Be With You” – believe me, I’ll accept the layered-vocal sound for the way this wordsmith puts his lyrics together. The metaphors run deep, right from the opening church-bells to the significance of this emcee declaring he ‘never knew the words’ – he doesn’t need the words of others, any scripture or foregone conclusions…he’s out to find his own truth on this planet we call Earth, clearly.
While the rhymes stay short & on-point, Cunabear lights-up “DeerMan Of The Dark Woods” with more inventive music and insight as the flow stays sharp. He seems to choose really clever samples and beats to work with and rhyme on…and even though once his vocals begin he barely takes a breath – he’s also rarely, if ever, over-stuffing these tracks. He’s not concerned with buzz-words or finding a path to what makes the genres of hip-hop & rap turn into tricks & gimmicks – instead you can audibly hear the amount of thought he’s actually put into the writing. Whether it’s a line that brings about a grin to your face, or simply makes you think about what’s been said – he brings a real poetic nature to his rhymes that you can hear, no matter how many different layers or effects he uses. A lot of it actually comes out like free-flowing thoughts spilled onto a page, like you’ll hear on “Obsidian Mirror.” The words in the hook are genius…he’s clearly got a little beef happening with religion, and this is actually one of the ways he expresses himself at his best. “Obsidian Mirror” has just as much catchiness to the bizarreness in the hook as it does thought-provoking lyrics…so again, I encourage you to dig deep and really listen – I found this to be one of the tracks I really got addicted to quickly on my first ventures through w0nky.
“We Speak Of Stalwart Fads & Raise Our Shaking Fists Towards Heaven” sees Cunabear heading towards even more experimental terrain…it’s a love-it or hate-it kind of track that you’ll either get, or you won’t – that simple. I might even fall into the latter of those two options myself – and that’s coming from a guy that’s built on weird; but the reality is that this cut is entirely inaudible throughout its main verse…the samples come through crisp & clear, but the swirling, surrounding vocals act much more like an instrument than they do as words you’ll be able to catch. In that sense…I can dig it…but it all depends on what he’s going for really…and if he’s looking for any kind of clarity here, then our man Cunabear has completely lost the plot. All that being said – I loved the answering machine samples he’s put at the end of “We Speak Of Stalwart Fads & Raise Our Shaking Fists Towards Heaven” – sounds like the man has got good friends and family around him and for my own ADHD-esque needs, I love stuff like this added in.
The imagery and power of the words of “Don’t Tread On Me” basically knocked me out flat on my ass. Anyone out there that might have written this emcee off without paying closer attention will pretty much be forced to eat his words here, ‘straight from the ladle,’ as the man himself will say in the song. But lines like “I run home, every day” and “I get shipped off back to black-man’s grade-school” – I mean, DAMN…this guy is hitting home big time on this track. Now…I could jump up on my soapbox here and point out the clarity of his lyrics really support the amount of impact he’s making…but I’m sure he’s already aware of every move he’s making and that’s exactly WHY we hear these words more clearly than almost any other cut on the record. Smart move – and Cunabear gets every inch of his point across on “Don’t Tread On Me” – I absolutely love this track and all the insight, imagery and wisdom that comes with it.
Inarguably, the craziest cut on w0nky is without a doubt, “Of Guts & Glory” featuring sp00kytooth and BigStupid!diot. Not only is it an eleven-plus minute monsterpiece, but Cunabear & his posse take this one all over the map of music like chapters in a storybook. Like a bunch of tracks strung together as one – “Of Guts & Glory” gives shout-outs to key figures in rap I respect greatly myself, like Q-Tip and Mos Def…true wordsmiths and masters of the craft as it roams through erratic music and a variety of different styles to its rhythm and flow. Normally, eleven-plus minutes of anything is bound to wear thin at points…but the complexity you’ll find in the combinations of words contrasting the beat and the different parts of this song keep it moving in all the right directions. From the intense electro-infused opening verse of Cunabear, to the smoothed-out verse provided by sp00kytooth (I think…not entirely sure), and the innovative ways that this cut changes and pivots throughout – there’s a winning combination in the bizarre here – one that definitely highlights Cunabear’s ability to work just as well with a team of talent as he does on his own.
Like I said in the first moments of this review…Cunabear also has an uncanny ability to speak through his samples and through the tones of his music. You can hear from the moment that the music of “Couch Surfing At Low Tide” begins that this track is going to find a more serious vein, and stick right into ya. Brilliant cut…the first-half features an amazing sample of Dr. King’s speech…which admittedly, is pretty much impossible to use without it sounding amazing…because it IS. So truthfully, “Couch Surfing At Low Tide” certainly has an advantage in using that…but the music that Cunabear is using really matches the intensity and depth in the emotion – so props for that. The latter half of the song completely supports the intentions and ambitions of Dr. King’s speech in our modern-day times, and Cunabear is at his finest when he gets super-political. Calling out the police for their shitheaded practices and prejudices straight-up – he’s done an excellent job of supporting the speech-driven half with key insights on our world today following in that second-half. Cunabear moves super-quickly in his thought-process…you can tell his brain is moving a mile a minute at a very high level – but you’ll get his point, no doubt.
“Thar She Blaows!” is another example of the light-speed computer this cat has inside his brain. Musically, it was probably the toughest track on the record for me to follow along with – but the words were some of the lyrics I appreciated most on w0nky. It’s about as experimental as this record gets, but makes some of the most straight-forward points. Does it work? I honestly don’t know…”Thar She Blaows!” was definitely right out there on the fringe of what I can accept…but there’s something odd about the combination of the bizarre hook and strength of the lyrics that kept me coming back to it.
But reality suggests that Cunabear is thriving on the bizarre, offbeat and challenging nature of his music & rhymes…but it’s also only after listening to the full-album that you realize this streak of creativity never finds an end. “Wonky,” the record’s title-tune, is a perfect example of what I mean. Cunabear switches through transitions and glides through the epic-weirdness of this composition – he gets downright dark musically on this cut, but it all supports the concepts and ideas in the lyricism once again. I got a lot of love for the poetic nature of his rhymes and innovation…and this title-tune delivers solidly throughout and I love the way he’s got the samples & nature-sounds working on half of this track. It’s like the menacing-cousin to Lemon Jelly’s “Ramblin’ Man.”
Dude starts out “Oracle” with a sample from Rick And Morty the cartoon…so that there alone will speak to both the ability Cunabear has to reach out creatively to find the right samples to support his music, but also…those that watch the show will know that cartoon is no joke and has provided some of the most brilliant insights on our society since it began to air. Cunabear sticks to the music on this one and lets the samples do the talking for him…and STILL gets his overall point across. Can’t beat that – “Oracle” is a big checkmark in the WIN column and another way this versatile artist innovates through his music on w0nky. He’ll let you ponder all this while you drift through dreamland on the instrumental & floaty atmosphere of “CloudLand” for a minute or two before shifting gears once again in the final push towards the end of the record – but he’s nice enough to not disturb you too much or unsettle the vibe as “8’s & Aces” begins. Speaking again to the poetic-nature & free-flowing thoughts that occupy the energy & lyrics driving this album, “8’s & Aces” is all the proof you need to back that up. Lifting blunts to the sky – Cunabear keeps it movin’ sleepily, but with all the passion in the words he’s been using to impress us all throughout the record.
The relaxed environment of the preceding cuts ends up serving “n0body” extremely well. The music is brilliant on this second-to-last track…there’s a real inspirational and uplifting sound to it that sounds spectacular to listen to. Calling and answering his own lyrics at times and layering the vocals, you can hear this record coming full-circle as “n0body” plays. You can hear the weight of the world on his shoulders, but you can also hear how he’s able to shrug it all off in pursuit of his dreams and goals. If it’s up to him and “n0body” else – you get the sense from the lyrics of this track that he’s still got more than enough determination to get to where he wants to go.
Cunabear deserves a lot of credit for taking his own path on Wonky. “Burn The Maps” featuring D-Cypher ends the record on a smooth vibe of confirmation and inspiration; again, you can hear that he’s undeterred by any struggles that life throws at him – in fact, on many of these cuts, he’s directly told life to bring it the fuck on. He’s courageous…he’s unafraid to just be him, and let you be you. Bringing it all back to my original point – whether or not everyone ‘gets it’ isn’t going to change or phase him even in the slightest…because he knows he’s on the right path for what he’s looking to do with his music, life and career.
How can that lead to anything else other than to stand-up, cheer and root for this guy? I really admire the intentions of this record…it’s a lot of uncharted territory – and “Burn The Maps” ends up summing up his ambitions solidly before this record ends. You can hear that he lightens up a little here…because regardless of whether or not the world ‘gets it’ now or not – he’s done right by himself, and right by the art he chooses to create.
And that’s exactly what this rap-record is made of – real art…and the real strength required to pursue it.
Find out more about Cunabear at his official page at: http://cunabear.com/