Escape from Angola: Bishop Lamont's path to redemption
Hip-hop discourse has always been heavily slanted toward the hottest and most hyped. MTV doesn’t list the best rappers, it ticks off “the Hottest MCs” in the game. Rolling Stone has its own chronicle, where it recently tabbed Ladera Heights product Tyler, the Creator as its “Hot Horror Core Revivalist” -- even though he doesn’t really make horror-core.
For rappers who maintain an Internet-centric fan base, falling outside the purview of the blogs is akin to the plotline of “The Net.” You are erased.
Two years ago, Bishop Lamont burned locally like the Station Fire -- at least, as much as you can without your own viral video. He was signed to Aftermath/Interscope, and his mentor Dr. Dre tabbed him for ghostwriting duties on “Detox” and compared him to Eminem. Gunning for more than mainstream ears, Lamont released an impressive Caltroit collaboration with production from Fat Beats favorite son Black Milk and guest spots, including Slum Village, Busta Rhymes and Ras Kass.
When the time came to drop the lead single from his much-delayed “Reformation,” the Dre-produced “Grow Up” immediately entered the Power 106 playlist and illuminated Lamont’s contrarian worldview. While most of his peers attempted to patronize teenagers, Lamont inveighed against dropping out of school, leaving your kid at home while partying and thirtysomethings who still sagged their pants. Unfortunately, a label-ordered cease and desist letter quickly took the song off the air.
After a year-long extrication process, he finally received his walking papers from Aftermath. The lengthy interruption caused his buzz to cool, while fickle fans concentrated their energies on any number of the dozens of mixtapes released daily. So it’s only mildly surprising that last week’s release of Lamont’s “The Shawshank Redemption: Angola 3” mixtape attracted only passing attention. With production from Dre, DJ Quik, Bink and Lord Finesse, and cameos from Busta Rhymes, Kurupt and Talib Kweli, it's heavy on big names, who turn in strong performances.
And Bishop’s return partially validates why Dre signed him in the first place. “Wanted Man” is a speed-riddled and distorted stomp in the vein of Outkast’s “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 2)." The Dre-produced “Rain” is a chilling trip-hop-like homicide ballad that splits the difference between vintage 50 Cent and Eminem. “The Homie's Girl” is a hilarious dedication to the perils of accidentally hitting on your friends' women (specifically, Talib Kweli’s and DJ Babu’s ). The haunting “Hollow Eyes” is a poignant meditation on the pain of dreams deferred.
Not everything works. Lamont would be the first to admit that his ADD tendencies -- and his kitchen-sink approach -- result in the occasionally tedious “for the ladies” ballad or dis at imaginary rappers. But for the most part, the Carson-raised rhymer fortifies his spot as one of the West Coast’s best rappers and most oddly endearing characters. When you're this talented, freedom is more important than fleeting hype.
-- Jeff Weiss