It seems more and more these days that albums are flying under the radar. Maybe it’s my own aversion to the iTunes store or my local radio stations fixation on Chris Brown and Lady Gaga, but Travis Barker’s solo debut, Give the Drummer Some, isn’t an album I would have consciously waited a month and a half to pick up. Regardless, the album dropped on March 15, 2011, and by the time I picked it up it was still badass.
Travis Barker is a drummer. Can A Drummer Get Some is a rap album. Aside from Lil Wayne’s Rebirth, which I hated (it’s nice to see artists branch out, but Lil Wayne with a guitar is like Michael Jordan with a baseball bat), few collaborations between rap and real instruments have been successful. I’m not counting The Roots, who I love, because what they do is something very different. With The Roots, the music seems to take precedence and the lyrics are made to fit. What Travis Barker has accomplished is something much more unique and special in my opinion.
I’ve long been a fan of Travis Barker and his forays into the hip/hop world, which is where he currently gets his mail until Blink 182 releases their long awaited reunion album this June. I was never a huge Blink fan, but always thought their work was okay. Travis Barker, however, is a regular station on my Pandora playlist. Barker has established himself as a remix master in the rap world, adding a vibrancy to played out tracks that can only come from a true, real-world set of drums. It was actually through Pandora that I became aware he’d released his new solo album.
With Give the Drummer Some, the music and lyrics seem to battle for your attention, driving each other to further heights of creativity. It’s a concept album that easily could have fallen short. The reason it succeeds is the talent of the people involved. Travis Barker as a modern drummer, able to genre-cross at will, is an anomaly and a savant. But even with his talent, the album could have failed. Yet Barker recruited some of the best lyricists in rap. No, you won’t find Nelly, P. Diddy, or T. Pain. You will find the names that already populate my previously mentioned Pandora playlists: Lil Wayne (not playing guitar), The Game, Pharrell, Lupe Fiasco, RZA, Raekwon, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, Kid Cudi, and Cypress Hill. That Barker was able to draw such array of accomplished artists points to a serious acceptance and presence in the hip hop community.
The album is not without faults though, and I’d be remiss not to give a full Hokum breakdown.
The non-deluxe version of the album features 12 songs, three of which are bad, and two are merely mediocre. After hearing the whole album, I wish I’d have sprung for the extra three songs on the deluxe version.
Even with all my love for the Wu Tang Clan, I hated “Carry It” with RZA, Raekwon, and Tom Morrello. The song feels like the lyricists are struggling to make sense of the beat (which is erratic at best) and the result is a perfect example of rap-rock gone awry. Also, “My uzi weighs a ton son carry it,” is one of the worst choruses ever.
“Jump Down” suffers from many of the same problems, but is overtly lazy in comparison. The beat is simplistically boring and The Cool Kids (whoever they are) are horrible lyricists. I have no idea what this song is about, and refuse to put in the effort to find out.
The absolute worst song on the album is “Saturday Night” featuring the Transplants. I don’t know who the Transplants are, but they sound like a shitty, less creative Beck. This song is almost amusing in how bad it is, and the washed out chorus, “Every night is a Saturday night,” will play in my nightmares for years.
Songs worth a listen, but not worth money, are: “Devil’s Got a Hold of Me” (featuring Slaughterhouse – don’t ask me who that is) and “Let’s Go” (featuring Yelawolf, Twista, Busta Rhymes, and Lil John). “Let’s Go” sounds like an instrumental version of a typical Lil John song. I did discover Yelawolf on this track and actually found I liked his verse, which was a nice surprise. Also, Busta Rhymes, who has very quietly been rebuilding his career via mixtap credentials, has some good lines on this one.
Wow, where to start. There are at least seven songs on this album I would buy individually (my test of quality). I’m going to cover them in play order with the simple exception of saving my favorite for last.
“Can A Drummer Get Some,” the title track, features Game, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, and Swizz Beatz. While the first two are on my top 10 list of current rappers, I feel like both rappers phoned in their performances, with Game’s lines being slightly above average. It’s also possible that the music behind that track just outplays the lyricists, because Barker comes out firing on all cylinders with horns and snare drums blazing. The instrumental on the track coupled with the star power makes this track the clear first single release.
“Knockin” is a track that I didn’t think I would like, but quickly became my second favorite on the album. It features Snoop Dogg and Ludacris, two rappers I’ve been listening to since I had to ride the bus to school. On the flip side, I considered both artists to have already hit their prime, but was pleasantly surprised at how “Knockin” repackages both rappers' sounds. Something about a slow beat with conga drums seems perfectly suited for Snoop Dogg’s laid back, funky style. I swear I even heard a xylophone. Even the auto-tuned chorus lady is infectious and addictive with her computerized hook.
“Cool Head” features an industrial steel drum intro followed by some prevalent electric guitar that’s low-key and simplistic, letting Kid Cudi’s voice handle the brunt of the work. The track also features a slow beat with autotune and reverb work that’s very much identifiable as Cudi’s style. However, even as a fan of Cudi I have to say his verses seem lackluster and missing any clearly identifiable theme.
“Raw Shit” is one of the biggest surprises on the album. The instrumental is one of the more simple, as Barker seems to have forgone actual drums on this track for the more typical drum machine used throughout hip hop. The biggest surprise was that Tech N9ne (a rapper I’m familiar with, but don’t follow) turns in what is probably the best verses on the album (next to Lupe, but we’re coming to that). Bub B’s deep voice accounts for the lack of a more dominating bass beat and Barker plays with the timing of his bass beats to accentuate certain lyrical pauses, in a nice, but rare, interchange between the instrumental and the actual rapper’s voice.
“Just Chill” is solid in the reflective, slow track tradition of rap albums. The lyrics explore a depressing exposition of street life, and while there’s nothing new there, everything comes together nicely with a smooth chorus by R&B singer Kobe. This is a nice end-of-the-night, driving-home track.
“Beat Goes On” features Cypress Hill, who hasn’t done much in recent years, but has a history of doing rap/rock crossovers and “Beat Goes On” comes off as the most natural pairing on the album. Seriously, the track almost seems like a live version as you can almost see B-Real and Sen Dog bouncing around on stage while performing the track. Barker is clearly familiar with Cyrpess Hill’s sound and provides an electric guitar riff that complements B-Real’s nasally voice and overall gives the impression of an entire band being present. The lyrics are what you would expect from Cyrpess Hill, and the overall result is a track to get you off your ass.
I’m going to use “Beat Goes On” to make two interesting points about this album. First, the album name Give A Drummer Some is a reference to James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” which is actually mentioned in “Beat Goes On.” “Funky Drummer” is well-known in the hip hop community for the frequent sampling of Clyde Stubberfield’s awesome drum break and it’s a nice reference.
The second thing I wanted to mention was that you shouldn’t switch to the next track once you think the song is done on this album. Some of the greatest moments on the album are Travis Barker’s drumming outros for each of the songs. It’s his chance to have fun without playing over someone and he really gets funky towards the end.
Finally, I can talk about what might be my favorite song of the year. My admiration for Lupe Fiasco has been well documented so I instantly had high expectations for “If You Want To” featuring Pharrell and Lupe Fiasco. Pharrell is one of the better producers of our era and his vocal work has a unique sound to it that flows with the blasting horns and funky snare that Barker lets loose all over the track. Only a handful of lyricists could flow over a beat this fast and competitive and still make sense. One has to wonder when he breathes. Lupe’s verses coupled with Barker’s percussion create an upbeat tempo that never gets old. Pharrell masterfully takes on the chorus and really functions as a hype man during the few breaks Lupe takes on the track.
I’ll stop gushing now. Go buy the album or at least this song.
And on a final note, I think this might also be my favorite album are of the year. Something about a skull with a Mohawk and drumsticks is instantly recognizable as Travis Barker to anyone familiar with his background.
Hokum’s Rating: 9.2/10