Sacramento hip-hop artists Mahtie Bush and Chuuwee explore political relevancy and Scrooge McDuck, respectively
Truth or truther?: Last Saturday at Harlow’s, local rapper Mahtie Bush celebrated the release of Child’s Play, his follow-up to 2010’s Backpackramento. The new album’s title derives from Bush’s belief that life is hard, and thus music should come easy (at least for him), but the content within it is not 36 minutes of harmless recess. Child’s Play is hardened by Bush’s life story as a husband, father and marginalized local rapper, plus civil-rights conflicts that cannot be ignored.
The timing might read as opportunistic, given the tragedy in Ferguson, Mo., and Monday’s live streaming of Michael Brown’s funeral, but Bush confronting the police state on “Dead Zone” could have been written at any point during that four-year gap between records. Trace it even further back to 2009 to the Oscar Grant shooting in Oakland. Trace it to 2013, when Jonathan Ferrell was seeking help after a car crash and instead a Taser was used on him before being shot 10 times. The hypocrisy of paid leave over homicide sentencing is addressed by Bush on “Dead Zone,” with lyrics such as, “If a cop shoots a kid he won’t see fed time.”
The duration of Child’s Play, currently streaming on Spotify, meanders through an internal struggle of consistency and intent. The record’s centerpiece songs, “Blood Runs Cold” and “I Ain’t Believing,” deviate from Bush’s signature backpack rap flow in exchange for a gruff delivery bearing likeness to Roc Marciano’s smooth candor. Despite the resemblance, it works to Bush’s benefit as his usual pattern of speech (see “Let Go”) dates his music to a bygone era and limits the growth in his songwriting. The production on “I Ain’t Believing” is tempered in percussion to finger snaps and subwoofer thumps beneath the ethereal sample from the Fugees’ “Ready or Not” and Suzanne Vega’s earwormy dah-dah-dah-dah from “Tom’s Diner.” It’s an unconventional cross-pollination of samples that juxtaposes Vega’s detached eye-witness single with the Fugees’ battle cry. Equally unconventional is Bush, who’s self-aware of being labeled a conspiracy theorist or truther, but it doesn’t dissuade him from proclamations of “Open up the border if you want the Latino vote / Because the only time we count, when numbers matter / Riot gear got us in fear, they want us to scatter.”
As an elder of the local scene, Bush doesn’t bog down Child’s Play with any local politics, like those found on his Sac Hates Hip Hop series. Instead, Child’s Play is a renewal of his craft, touching on a few new turns that should be cultivated, though it’s hindered by old habits dying hard.
This one’s for the boob tubers: If Mahtie Bush is a militant truther for our city’s socially aware, Chuuwee exists for rap fans who prefer escapism through indifference and vice. His latest mixtape, The Chuuwee Channel, is egomaniac rap for the boob tubers, social-media addicts and couch potatoes. The songs are named after reality shows, sitcoms, TV networks and movies. Chuuwee’s concerns are kept to what’s at arm’s length and selectable by remote control. Chuuwee struggles with the agitation of Internet trolls poisoning his life with negativity. The Chuuwee Channel breathes clarity that comes with maturity and the distillation of highs and lows in fame (and infamy). It’s also a portrait of the artist as a jaded and damaged young man.
The channel-surfing motif is shaky in execution: it doesn’t entirely direct the songwriting or maintain faithful interaction. But when it does, Chuuwee sounds rejuvenated and driven. On “Eat at Joes,” he flips to the Food Network to render metaphors about his hunger and drive to provide a feast for his family. But his understanding of the sitcom Friends suggests he missed the point of the series entirely, even in syndication, since his eponymous version is about false bonds and fake camaraderie. When Chuuwee lets his jaded side run loose, it suggests rap has brought him nothing but alienation and a healthy distrust for his peers. If the Chuuwee Channel were an actual station, it’d syndicate episodes of Maron, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Malcolm in the Middle and The Bernie Mac Show as a Kings of Curmudgeonry block.
Chuuwee closes with “Everybody Loves” (which exists in balance to “Everybody Hates,” the latter presumably referencing Everybody Hates Chris), with a sample of Ray Romano complaining, “Who am I? What do I do now? Where the hell do I belong?” On “Everybody Loves,” Chuuwee envisions himself in a Gatsby-esque mansion, the gates keeping his haters off the lawn, ultimately determining he belongs in isolation with his television and Scrooge McDuck swimming in money. Television has gone to his head.