There are times when being a musical artist creates a no-win situation. Fickle fans want you to grow, but keep making the same sort of music. They don’t want you to repeat yourself, but quickly become unhappy if the new stuff is too different from what they expected.
It is what leads to the dreaded sophomore jinx and why, too often, artists are labeled either a one-hit wonder or someone that repeats themselves over and over again. It’s almost completely binary and it is the rare musician that can thread the needle between the two.
These were the types of thoughts that were swirling in my head as I listened to Dream Team: A Stokely Hathaway Joint. A collaboration between producer Jason Griff, emcee Scorcese Lorde Jones, and wrestling manager Stokely Hathaway.
I consider Scorcese a friend. We’ve communicated and supported each other for several years and this is the third release of his that I’m reviewing, following the intelligent goon vibe of his ZipSquad collective’s Black Superhero Music and the intergalactic journey through space on his collaboration with Alpha Davis, A World Only Gods Know.
So it was difficult to tell him that, after a few listens, some of the songs weren’t working for me and maybe he’d prefer I not review it rather than get a bad review. He didn’t hesitate in his response to tell me that the thing he loves about art is that it’s subjective and that I should not hold anything back and speak my truth.
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I’m happy he did that, not only because it shows he can take criticism, but also because the more I listened to it, the more Dream Team grew on me. I still prefer his other projects, but that doesn’t mean this one is bad – it’s just different.
According to people that know these things, Hathaway is “a performer talented enough to finish the job of bringing [wrestling] managers back.” He can do it all: “talk like a traditional heel manager, is a natural at ringside, is great at comedy in a pro wrestling setting, and does social media better than just about anyone else in the sport.”
With Hathaway involved, it should come as no surprise that this is a wrestling-themed concept album from beginning to end. There are not only in-ring clips and promos devoted to the squared circle, but also stacks and stacks of “obscure wrestling references,” as the creators themselves put it. There are song titles – “Robbin’ Peter, Payin’ Paul (Heyman)”; “Classie Freddie Blassie” – interludes, and rhymes that will undoubtedly fly over the heads of the uninitiated including coded lines like “All white cast, how it feel to be Elite?” (Feel free to Google it.) “Independent’s Day” alone is a rundown of similes as Scorcese compares his skills to stars from the world of wrestling, many of whom came from the independent circuit.
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Scorcese’s voice packs a punch – it’s often low and gravelly like a whispered threat, but when he gets hyped, it takes on an urgent desperation, much like Nipsey Hussle’s, but he’s more than just a voice. His pen game has always been stellar and it’s as good as it has ever been here, even beyond the allusions to sports entertainment. Double entrendres and metaphors abound – “Talk greasy, mouth full of Vaseline”; “Cocaine same color as Serena’s daughter”; “Snappin’ like Thanos” – and his penchant for vividly setting the scene like a novelist is still very much intact. In fact, he easily outshines all of the guests. His flow on “Death By Roll-Up” alone is absolutely bananas and demands repeated listens. That’s him in his element because whenever he slows down, like on “Flex Kavana,” both his cadence and flow suffer.
Ultimately, the album’s weak points lie in its hooks and beats.
Scorcese has proven he can craft a great hook, but here they are often completely abandoned or simply a repeated phrase, making some songs feel incomplete. The beats, meanwhile, are inconsistent. Some really knock – “Pink Flamingo Weather” has a cinematic sound, “Slick Talk” is perfectly layered, and the aforementioned “Independent’s Day” is infused with an eerie, sinister vibe – but others, like “Austin’s Theory,” “It’s Personal aka Lucky Lefty,” and “Bobby Heenan Dream” either eschew drums almost entirely or attempt to create a sound through atmosphere alone and it doesn’t work.
But I must admit that Dream Team: A Stokely Hathaway Joint continues to grow on me. I like it more today than I did yesterday and I liked it better yesterday than the day before that. I even had to rewrite this review because it no longer reflected how I felt about the album.
Maybe in a year I’ll be writing about how I can’t stop listening to it…
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books that are available in paperback and Kindle. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.