A lot has happened in the 20 years since producer-rapper team Danger Mouse & Jemini’s acclaimed debut album, Ghetto Pop Life — to them and to hip-hop, let alone the world. You wouldn’t realize it by listening to their overdue follow-up, Born Again, but that’s a good thing, especially with all these changes in the background.
A literal time capsule of sound and content from early 2000s rap, the duo’s sophomore effort was apparently recorded shortly after the release of “Ghetto Pop Life” and shelved indefinitely, making it an authentic throwback to that bygone era . But Jemini’s versatility as a lyricist and Danger Mouse’s robust, imaginative production give “Born Again” a timeless quality not only worthy of its predecessor, but also placing it in the top tier of similar releases in recent years, including “A Tribe Called Quest” We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service” and “Cheat Codes,” Burton’s 2022 collaboration with Black Thought, both thought-provoking and nodding-inducing.
At just 10 tracks, “Born Again” is shorter than “Ghetto Pop Life” and doesn’t feature any of his underground luminaries, which included 2003’s Pharcyde, J-Zone, Tha Liks and Prince Po. Instead, it offers a presentation of Jemini’s own distinct “voices,” vacillating between gruff, introspective verse and Mos Def-style vocals, coupled with a playfulness that sounds particularly anachronistic in most of today’s chart-topping music. Meanwhile, Danger Mouse’s output, which has expanded over the past two decades to now include collaborations with everyone from Cee-Lo and MF Doom to Beck and Karen O, is reminiscent of his muted, slightly melancholic work on ” The Good, the Bad & the. Queen” and Sparklehorse’s “Dark Night of the Soul”. It’s a powerful, surprisingly emotional combination that, in turn, elevates the music from the status of a supposedly ‘lost classic’ to something with contemporary yet enduring relevance.
Opening track “All I” immediately showcases Jemini’s storytelling skills, exploring the various hectics and struggles that preceded and shaped his music career: “I sling all that coke / And all that crack / And I wish all the.” I could get it all back,” he raps with sobering honesty over a tip-tap beat and an acoustic guitar sample. Still, “Locked Up” along with “Dear Poppa” later in the album really feels like a song that wouldn’t even be made today, especially with the clear-eyed, narrative approach it takes. In the former he describes the life – past, present and future – of a convict contemplating the consequences of his imprisonment; on the latter, he quotes Andre 3000’s intro to “Ms. Jackson,” before examining his complicated relationship with his father, taking turns celebrating, empathizing, and judging the obstacles between them.
Danger Mouse’s instrumentals complement Jemini’s lyrical content, bridging the gap between the hip-hop era when sampled material felt like a crate-digging game of Where’s Waldo and our current era, when it’s almost superfluous. When it’s not exactly the same, Danger Mouse opens “Me” with a sample that sounds like the one used in Souls of Mischief’s “That’s When Ya Lost” (Jack Bruce’s “Statues”); the second single “Born Again” is simultaneously reminiscent of Blackalicious’ “Make You Feel That Way” and Mos Def’s “Umi Says”; “Dear Poppa” surges forward as if Burton were smashing the piano borrowed from Isaac Hayes for Public Enemy’s “Black Steel In the Hour of Chaos”; And if Where You From doesn’t actually take cues from the 1980s animated series Transformers, its composers Ford Kinder and Anne Bryant could be forgiven for assuming it did.
But even when these references aren’t intentional, they come off as self-aware, like cheeky throwbacks to hip-hop standards or just personal favorites that lurk outside of the genre’s mainstream. “Brooklyn Bazquiat” exemplifies this best, rewriting the chorus of Notorious BIG’s “Hypnotize” (itself a quote from Slick Rick’s “La Di Da Di”) into exactly the kind of “don’t call it a comeback” track, which time was once considered a prerequisite for a rapper’s return from his debut (appropriately the album’s first single). The invocation of the name of one of the most important Black artists on the hip-hop panorama in the song’s title underscores the multidimensionality of not only musical but cultural influences, while Jemini’s nimble, hilarious swagger here and throughout the album suggests that he likes to fuck around – even if those who underestimated his abilities would find out immediately.
Ultimately, it might be a better match for “Cheat Codes” than “Ghetto Pop Life” due to its timing, but in any era, “Born Again” not only lives up to the producer and the rapper’s first appearance together, it surpasses it. Even if you’re unfamiliar with their debut, it’s immediately clear why Danger Mouse and Jemini haven’t given up on the follow-up: It’s a tighter, more cohesive and focused album that highlights the strengths of each individual collaborator and embodies their love of the genre – with In other words, catnip for fans of classic hip-hop who are dying to discover something “new”. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another 20 years for another example of them to come along.
https://variety.com/2023/music/reviews/danger-mouse-jemini-born-again-album-review-1235704129/ Danger Mouse & Jemini’s “Born Again” brings back the sound of 2003