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Why is it that human beings have a tendency to want to classify things? Does it make it easier for us to digest something if we can put it in a box with similar products? This seems to happen in music a lot, especially in hip hop, since it has been fractured into so many sub-genres. Sometimes I think it's the easy way out to listen to a couple of songs and throw an artist under some label. In fact, as I listened to Heath McNease's 'The Gun Show', I was tempted to do just that. After numerous allusions to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, video games and an entire song titled "Nerd Out", I was tempted (and I doubt I'm alone) to throw Heath McNease into the nerdcore sub-genre that artists such as MC Frontalot and MC Chris have pioneered over the past decade or so. However, to do such a thing would probably be short sighted, and unfair. If you listen closely, he's not just tossing out random geek culture references (although, I have to admit, I was impressed by the extent of his Saved By the Bell knowledge in "Y'all Ain't VIP", even going so far as to name check Tori Spelling's short lived character, Violet Bickerstaff), he's telling stories that are uniquely his own.
From a musical perspective, Heath McNease is an interesting individual. Balancing a strong underground sensibility and flow with strong hooks and mostly excellent sung vocals, he is equally at home flowing over a variety of production techniques and styles. In fact, one of the strongest things about this album is the variety that comes with it. 'The Gun Show' is a collection of songs that are so varied that it almost makes the album completely cohesive. From the somewhat psychedelic vibe of "Common Cold" to the bluesy vibe of "Space Cowboy" to the vaguely reggae-esque vibe of both "Zion" and "Thank You," the production on 'The Gun Show' isn't content to sit within one musical designation. I could take the easy way and say that the variety of tracks is primarily due to the number of different producers attached to this project (7 different producers on 17 tracks), but since Heath McNease is listed as co-producer on 13 tracks, I think it's as much a function of his varied musical tastes as it is the influence of the rest of the production team. Vocally, Heath McNease has a lot going for him. He's got a strong flow and voice that strikes me as a cross between Luke Geraty and Sintax.the.terrific. The Luke Geraty connection really came out for me in the track "Pity Party." In addition to having a strong voice on the rap thing, he's also got a pretty smooth singing voice. This is put to exceptional use on tracks like the acoustic guitar driven "I Will Live."
Lyrically, Heath McNease is throwing out all manner of pop culture references, but he's also taking time to rap about real life issues. "Makeshift Doxology" is probably the stand out track in this regard, starting out as a first person cautionary tale about the dangers of drinking to confession to a prayer of acceptance of Christ. It's an extremely effective track, that is alternately haunting and moving. There are other tracks that tackle topics of import, such as the depiction of abuse and neglect in "Pity Party." But I have to be honest, he's really at his best when he's being somewhat silly, and clowning around. I mean...where else can you hear a rapper compare himself to Nigel Tufnel or Matt Foley? And it's not just the fact that he makes these comparisons and references, but he does it with excellent timing and word choice. The fun only increases when he works with two of my favorite clown princes of hip hop, Pigeon John ("American Idle") and Playdough ("The Gun Show"). Both guests, plus RedCloud (on the track "Zion") do what guests should. They enhance the tracks they appear on, but don't overwhelm them so much that they take away from the main attraction.
I really enjoyed this album...however, I will point out that Heath McNease isn't necessarily for everyone. His music is certainly not traditional hip hop, and even within the sub-genre of Christian hip hop, it will likely be seen as a bit of an oddity. If you like experimental or non-traditional hip hop, buy your ticket to "The Gun Show." You might just have a good time.
Purchase on iTunes or AmazonMP3
Label: 7 Spin Records
Release Date: March 1, 2010
1. Chalk Outline
2. The Gun Show (ft. Playdough)
3. Everything Goes
4. Nerd Out (12 Point Power Sword)
5. Common Cold
6. Disco Biscuits (Matt Foley's Return)
7. Thank You
8. American, Idle (ft. Pigeon John)
9. Space Cowboy
10. Pity Party
11. I Will Live
12. Y'all Ain't VIP
13. Firing Squad
14. Zion (ft. RedCloud)
15. All Hail Medusa (When A Gorgon Becomes A Siren)
17. Makeshift Doxology
18. Nintendo Thumb (Bonus Track)