Ventilation: Da LP
Groove Attack Productions, 2000
REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/01/2009
I usually think of Pink Floyd’s Animals while listening to “Intro” and “Outro” on Ventilation: Da LP. These tracks remind me of “Pigs On The Wing 1” and “Pigs On The Wing 2”: boring, acoustic guitar-driven bookends that should have been left behind (for the record, the rest of Animals isn’t boring). The case of Ventilation is even more annoying because of lyrics like this: “It’s the pain inside my soul and it’s aching / We all need a ventilation / It’s the ventilation that we all need / To help the youth succeed.”
The mission of helping the youth succeed shows up again in “Alphabet Soup”: “Let’s do it for the kids, man / We can’t afford not to / It’s the only thing we have / They’d rather listen to us kick it in a verse than to listen to Miss Crabtree at school.”
Fair enough. But why put a song like “Ben Dova” in the middle of your album? Perhaps getting frustrated with women and telling them to bend over can lower high school dropout rates. And don’t forget to call them bitches. That might increase student achievement in math and science.
Phife wasn’t always this malicious. While rapping with A Tribe Called Quest, he wouldn’t shy away from sex or women problems (check out “Butter”), but he was funny rather than mean and self-important. And he didn’t blither about helping children only to come across as a hypocrite tracks later. Sure, “Alphabet Soup” is a solid song, but the album loses power as a whole when Phife can’t live up to what he’s saying.
Indeed, Phife can still deliver good rhymes. But when his sermonizing doesn’t seem hypocritical, he’s bitching about industry rap. There’s nothing wrong with criticizing what you see as superficial, and Phife makes a few valid points, but the album is song after song of this talk.
Another occasional problem is the production. “Lemme Find Out,” produced by Pete Rock, is the worst offender with its embarrassingly tiny beat. “Beats, Rhymes & Phife” could have used better production, too. Like “Mr. Nigga” from Mos Def’s Black On Both Sides, “Beats, Rhymes & Phife” samples the recognizable “Legend In His Own Mind” by Gil Scott-Heron. However, the Scott-Heron sample on this album is muted and toothless.
Most conversations about Ventilation focus on Phife’s disapproval of fellow Tribe member Q-Tip’s debut album, Amplified, but honestly, I sensed more anger toward the rap industry in general. Perhaps some of the harsh lyrics in “Flawless” refer to Q-Tip’s mainstream effort, but they undoubtedly address a slew of rappers on the market. And read the album credits. Phife thanks Q-Tip. In that way, Phife hasn’t changed. He’s still concerned with the larger picture and doesn’t attack individuals like a rabid dog. Too bad his debut is inconsistent at best.