Califormula

Artist: Ellay KhuleTitle: CaliformulaRating: 2 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Jamin Warren

Here’s the problem with speed rap: too much is abusive. Yes, rappers have made careers from occasional displays of lyrical speed; think Big Daddy Kane, Percee P, or even Ludacris. But all these rappers exerted quick phrases as part of a larger repertoire of styles and cadences. They knew fans couldn’t sustain interest in feats of microphone speed for long period of time. Why? It’s boring. That’s why Twista’s fifth album failed to turn any heads. Kamikaze was a one-shot deal; we could handle his world record speed but only for one album.

Ellay Khule’s debut, Califormula (Decon/Project Blowed) is a fifty-minute guitar solo. The Rifleman opens his mouth and doesn’t stop rhyming. Sometimes he’s successful. On “Very Latest Styles,” Ellay flexes his vocabulary, weaving his verses between a dancing rag piano and a Baltimore club-worthy bassline. “Who’s Killing Hip-Hop” is well-treaded material, but it’s one the few tracks where Ellay lowers his snarl.

The fun stops there. When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Ellay is obsessed with stuffing as many words as possible into every song—Califormula is all chops and no songwriting. There’s no coalescing idea, no thematic unity. The song titles are incidental (with the exception of the Adidas/Kangol lovefest on “B-Girl Queendom.”) Ellay’s addiction to speed hamstrings his performance. It’s one-speed (blazing) all the time so listeners can’t follow an idea even if one existed. We’re so over-stimulated that when he squeezes in something tasteless like, “The night Kurt Cobain blew his brains out/ I got him that gun,” we’ve already raced to the next stanza before the offense is even processed.

Fortunately, Nobody cleans up on the production side. On cuts like “Sounds Like…” and “Dandylions,” the shaggy-faced beatsmith constructs expanses of sound for Ellay to destroy, peddling cavernous delays and low end, fuzzy basslines.

But Nobody’s efforts are hopeless; Ellay’s relentless motormouth takes centerstage through all 18 tracks. By the time Ellay asks on “Telecommunications,” “How many raps can I chop without taking a breath or stop?,” you’re too exhausted to even care.

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