To say that die hard hip hop heads have been anticipating the release of Slaughterhouse’s Shady Records debut, Welcome to: Our House, for a while now would be a gross understatement. It would be even more ridiculous to say that all the hype it’s generated since their January 2011 announcement to sign with Eminem’s label was underserved. While their official group catalog is extremely limited (consisting of only one album, which saw little retail success, a promo mix tape earlier this month, and some assorted singles and freestyles), each member of the collective has a well-established track record of – for lack of a better word – “slaughtering” any beat they hopped on.
As a group of four of the most accomplished, respected, and traditional lyricists in the industry today (Royce Da 5’9”, Joell Ortiz, Crooked I, and Joe Budden), many have predicted that the release of the long awaited, big budget Slaughterhouse album would be a breath of fresh air in the current rap climate – focused more on brutal wordplay and verbal dexterity than the now standard flashy production and lazy, yet passable punch lines. Some of the group’s more vocal fans have put the project on an even greater pedestal, seemingly stating that it might even help return hip hop to what some consider the “glory days” of the art form – complete with chyphers, legitimate freestyles, and a noticeable lack of skinny jeans.
Well…with the album’s impending Tuesday release, it’s definitely tough to say those fans, at least the more closed minded ones, are going to be happy at all. In fact, this writer is willing to bet that some will be very loudly disappointed. They’ll probably say that this one was obviously meant for the “mainstream”, the group “sold out”, and that Em ruined Slaughterhouse. While they’d be right to right to say that this project’s sound is far removed from a lot of each group member’s musical past, they’d definitely be wrong to dismiss their present or future.
Make no mistake. This album is not the gritty street-themed pure lyrical display that Slaughterhouse’s members have become known for. It isn’t the “throwback” that a lot hoped for. There were definitely some concessions made in order to give this one some broader fan appeal on the modern musical landscape. But, don’t for a second think that it isn’t a great album either.
Lyrically, this is without a doubt one of the most impressive raw hip hop projects of the year so far. Outside of some of “underground” (El-P, Aesop Rock, Ab-Soul, Etc.) work and Nas’s new album, it’s hard to think of any major commercially released album this year that is as potent lyrically as Welcome to: Our House. We definitely get each rapper’s now signature technical style throughout – Royce’s tenacious double time rhyming, Joe Budden’s blunt but undeniable flow, Joell Ortiz’s versatile and deceptively deep lyricism, and Crooked I’s wild and unpredictable obvious West Coast influence. I’d list a few lines here to prove that each of these guys brings their A-game, at least technically, but the project is literally so dense with impressive rhymes that it’d be criminal to single them out.
However, where I’m sure many of the group’s older fans will find an issue, is with the overall lyrical substance and approach. While there are definitely a few of the hard-nosed “street” inspired exchanges that a lot of the group’s previous work has included, there is an obvious difference in the content on this album, and most of their older stuff. Some of that change involves a more positive message (which has been present at times with Joell Ortiz in the past), like on “The Other Side” or “Goodbye”. It’s going to be hard to understand anyone who will criticize these types of changes.
But, on the other side of the coin, some of the “new look” Slaughterhouse is taking on seems like it’s going to receive a far from pleasant reaction from certain fans. On tracks like “Throw That”, “Frat House”, and “Asylum” (two of which feature Eminem) the group comes with a slapstick, almost comedic, approach – which is probably the last thing that any one except the most cynical hip hop heads would have expected. Delivery aside, if the style had to be compared to anything out already, it would be the often-criticized Relapse- era Eminem (or not so criticized Kool Keith before him, but that’s another story completely…).
While the masses will probably enjoy the more upbeat, light hearted, and party-centric vibe the group brings, Slaughterhouse’s existing fan base is more than likely going to be alienated by it. As a reviewer who does his best to see the music from every possible angle, I have to say that the more “wacky” moments on this one are a ton of fun, and in comparison to a lot of modern hip hop, great listens. But, it’s definitely understandable if some of the group’s die hard fans are less than happy with some of the stylistic choices.
Production wise, this album is one of the most varied and impressive experiences the year has to offer so far – hands down, no questions asked. With producer credits that boast names like J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Boi-1da, No I.D., T-Minus, Hit-Boy, AraabMuzik, and Kane Beatz, that should be expected though. However, again, a lot of what’s offered here is far from what the die-hards probably expected, or wanted to hear.
It’s obviously much more radio-friendly and “flashy” than 99% of what we’re used to hearing these guys spit over, especially (and maybe not surprisingly) on the poppish “My Life (feat. Cee-Lo)” and B.o.B dominated “Place to Be”. The result is an album that focuses much less on the pure lyricism that many hip hop heads have come to these artists to for years now, than could be considered ideal. That is a problem that’s hard to defend though. It definitely puts the MCs in the “background” of tracks at times, which isn’t an easy-to-defend decision, at all, when you’re talking about these guys.
However, based on the strengths of the instrumentals alone, and ignoring the fact that they take away from the tenacious lyricism many wanted, there are more than a few bona-fide “bangers” here. “Flip a Bird” and “Walk of Shame” are definitely a bit outside of the traditional hip hop box, but both of them might be among the ten best beats to come out this year. Luckily, there are some more subdued, and well put-together tracks that allow the lyricism to shine through 100% too, like “Our Way” and “Our House“
Overall, Welcome to: Our House, will easily fall somewhere in the top ten hip hop releases of the year, even with a healthy amount of contenders still to drop. Each MC comes as advertised, and it’s great to hear so much of what could be reasonably called the “lost art” of traditional lyricism, especially in such a commercially driven project.
However, with all the praise and success it’s about to earn, it’s probably going to cause just as much controversy among hip hop’s diehard fans, and understandably so. It admittedly isn’t “Old Slaugherhouse”, or Joe Budden, Crooked I, Joell Ortiz, or Royce – and some are going to find fault with it purely because of that. But, what is here is probably going to be embraced by the average music fan in a big way, and it should (key word – should) be by all but the most close-minded percentage of their old fan base too.