I plan to keep this short. First, the facts:
- Chris Rivers is the song of Big Pun
- Big Pun is my favorite latino emcee, and probably resides in my all-time top 10 or 15
- Chris Rivers raps, really well, but not as good as his dad, yet
I caught on to Wonderland of Misery 2 after a freestyle and then a google search that led to this song:
Sorry but I don’t remember where I saw that freestyle so I don’t have a link for it. Anyway, Wonderland of Misery 2 is Chris’ “mixtape” from mid 2014. Those quotes are there because most of the instrumentals seem to be original, and most of the songs are structured like regular songs with hooks and a couple verses and such. So this is more of a “street album” than mixtape. The beats are decent, but rarely are they very compelling in their own right. Their usual style is what you might expect from a 2010s era East Cost gangsta emcee, with very short forays into R&B influences, and even a reggae song that I don’t care for. In terms of overall quality, about half of the best songs use jacked beats, so maybe Chris’ biggest problem is the beats he has available?
Actually, I know what Chris’ biggest problem is: his songwriting, which may or may not be influenced by his beats choices. Being Big Pun’s son, he has a LOT of work to do in order to make it out from underneath his dad’s shadow. And, being a new-ish emcee, much of that work isn’t completed yet. But he is already a genuinely dope emcee. He spits with a natural fire that commands attention and his rhyme schemes are always interesting because they’re complex and varied. But something is off. He’s noticeably less articulate in conceptual songs than he is doing braggadocio, sometimes relying on cliches or forming sentences awkwardly. His hook choices are pretty much always terrible (and usually voiced by some uncredited partner of his.) A lot of his songs feel like collections of random verses instead of being centered on one theme. And, finally, instead of putting out 10-14 good songs, this mixtape is 27 tracks that are sometimes very meh, with only a couple skits. In short, in my opinion, a lot of bad choices were made.
In Chris’ defense, some great songs came out of his seemingly-haphazard creation process. The above-embedded The Myth and the Omen, featuring Style P, is great as a display of the storytelling skills that Chris will likely hone in the future. Styles’ vague rhymes muddy the story of the reluctant criminal and his hardened mentor, but Chris’ verses make the theme clear and the song worth paying full attention to. I Know You Hate Me is another great song with a theme, this time Chris’ thoughts on his self-esteem and other people’s feelings about him. It’s my favorite track of the whole album/mixtape, and is made even more real by The Destroyer Skit, where he describes his lifelong battle with depression. In terms of raw rhyming skills, Heatwave, Asking, and Toe 2 Toe (Chris on The Roots’ Clones beat and Corey Gunz on Mobb Deep’s G.O.D. Father Pt 3) are all good displays of what Chris has to offer.
Sadly, Wonderland of Misery 2 plays like a demo that went on way too long. Chris Rivers clearly has a bright future ahead, but there’s no need for all these songs to be released just to prove that fact. They actually hurt his case, making his good songs seem like lucky flukes. He clearly can smash the mic, and he’s proved that he can make songs with meaning. Now I just need him to do those things, and only those things, for a whole release.
- I Know You Hate Me