I didn’t love Joey’s 1999 mixtape, but I felt good enough about it and his performance on other songs that I planned to try Summer Knights too. I’ve been playing it off and on for a few months, trying to figure out this attitude of meh that I couldn’t escape. One of the reasons for this deliberation is that, despite what my writings might imply, I don’t like being negative. But more importantly, I feel like there’s something here that I’m not understanding, and once I get it the “meh” will be replaced by a stronger feeling.
It’s one, perfectly reasonable, thing to understand some music and not like it, but to dislike it while not understanding is a cardinal sin of criticism, unless the artist never gave you a chance to understand in the first place. Otherwise it says that you, the critic, did not complete your job thoroughly. Another sin is giving a wishy-washy judgement because you’re scared of the above sin, but still are committed to giving what looks like an opinion before you in fact fully form one. This is why I hate saying “it’s not for me.” I’d rather show you that it’s not for me by explaining my negative feelings.* Anyway, I spent all this time listening, not continuously but in spurts, each one ended by boredom, to not commit one of above sins. Here’s what I’ve found.
Joey has worked on his rhymes since 1999, so I can’t think of one Summer Knights line that offended my taste or bored me. And while the verses are much more intricate, they aren’t obtuse, so I know that if I sit down with each one whose meaning isn’t obvious, I’ll find whatever message it may have. No, the lyrics aren’t the problem. It’s the overall style. With 1999, I could blame the ho-hum feeling I had on its fixation on the 90s, but Summer Knights has no such obvious mission, no obvious nods to specific songs and artists from that era, and yet I still have the same feeling. It’s improved enough that there are songs that I love, but there are many in between those that don’t excite me. It’s all so, relaxed and 90s-aping, that I wonder, “Are there really kids out there loving this? The same kids who love stuff like Migos? No, clearly not them. But even their generation? They want this version of 20-year old music?”
That’s what I don’t understand. To put it more plainly, for Joey to be as big as he is, he’s got have a fanbase. And I’m having a hard time imagining a fanbase, that’s around his age, being rabid for this way-less-than-thrilling kind of music. Dj Cipha Sounds, in explaining his dislike of the music, recently said it all sounds like b-sides. That’s an excellent summation of the feeling I have. Summer Knights is mostly all album cuts, especially in today’s hip-hop climate but even if it were two decades ago I’d feel this way. Joey seems obsessed with only this type of music that the 90s produced. But he does it well. So how do I find enjoyment in this, one of the styles that I liked the least during the 90s?
I think I have to accept it as mood music. It’s for certain times, when I’m relaxing with a drink, driving with no destination, or winding down, and it will bore me at other times. I want to be clear that this is not me settling, because, during those times, I love this album. They just don’t happen very often, so I can’t pretend to love the album or even like it a lot. I assume that there’s a lot of people who do, and now I, somewhat, understand them and Summer Knights. It’s dope, just not the kind of dope that I usually want.
*This is one reason why some critics like review scores. They force a clear judgement. You can write as many non-committal words as you want, but that 6 still says, unequivocally, that it’s not a good work of art in your eyes. I try to make the same sort of judgement at the end of each review, just in words.
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