The Experienced Listener Presents: Fish in the Forest by Al Pete
It amazes me how it’s possible to have world renowned musicians that don’t have an ear for music. One would think that, once you make a hit song, you would have a formula for making other songs on par with that one. Only rarely do I find that quality in hip hop musicians. But Florida’s own Mr. Al Pete represents a definite exception to this rule, and his new project, Fish in the Forest, is indeed exceptional. I woulda bought it the same day I heard it had it not been for… well, I got into a lil car accident the other day, and I still haven’t been reimbursed for the tow yet >:-\
The melody Al Pete uses for the light-percussive opening track To the Top… I can’t lie, I wish I was spitting on this joint. A very cool instrumental for the beginning of an album, but nicely complemented by some solid spitting by the Mr. Again, Pete embodies the sound of traditional hip hop, but with a southern flare; I played this joint about eight times before I even thought to peep the rest of the project. The only downside to the track is that when the bass accompaniment comes in it drowns out his vocals. Nevertheless, the accompaniment is well-placed with just the right notes to suit the vibe. My absolute favorite part of the track is near the end when the drums retreat and Al Pete says, “I got it tatted on my forearm… It reminds me to go hard.” Just love the feeling. And speaking of feeling, if you listen closely, you hear a guitar riff from George Benson’s classic Breezin’ at 1:03— real music recognize real music, right?
The next track, Bet It Up departs from the coolness of To the Top and goes instead for intensity. The drums are definitely more present this time, and an angry sax penetrates the instrumental for added umph. But nothing adds more heat to the track than the periodic “Ahhh!!” that slashes into the foreground. I gotta make a suggestion about this track tho: this would make a NICE collaboration track featuring Jersey’s own A-dot-P-dot. I mean, his catchphrase is “All bets!” anyway, so it’s a perfect fit. And quality hip hop musicians need to bolster each other. (…That’s just my executive producer hat, puttin’ it out there.) Speaking of collaboration, I thought it was very cool how Pete references his track Nike vs. Adidas when he says, “All them Nike muthaphuckas tryna check me thooo…” Aside from that, this track isn’t really a Lyricist’s Lounge joint; more of a tune made get the party started. I could picture a DJ on the tables having a lot of fun scratching and cutting over this one.
Me being a brotha who loves the cold, I nevertheless appreciate tracks like Jazzy Girl that have a summertime feel to them. The feel-good, ice-cream-truck kind of summertime too; nothing like the summer we had in Augusta this year, where the days were hell and the nights were… actually just jet-black thunderclouds. I like this track because it’s been a long time since I’ve heard a rapper rap about love and relationships from a conservative angle; in other words, this is a song about building a relationship instead of jumping in the sack. Peep:
…Met parents, I’m cool witcha daughter/
Ya cool with my little man, so we can take this farther/
Why even bother, to let this time tick/
Cuz we can’t rewind it or pacify it; I’m sayin tho/
We’ll still take things slow, respecting the covenant/
We both displayed, that’ll never get misplayed/
Ain’t tryna see a switchblade, from this or that/
Or this way, it’s gon happen, we’ll keep on paddlin…/
…Wow, ‘covenant’? I know sumn bout that. And not just because I bought Halo: Reach. That’s Good Book right there.
Moving right along, lemme briefly tell ya’ll sumn: I love my Black people. But every now and later, we need to tell our people about themselves. From the moment I saw the title of Negros and Egos, I was 100% on board with this track. This is where the lyrical Al Pete wakes up and begins to drop jewels over a less-playful style instrumental, allowing his scratch-and-cut powers of DJ to engage over the hook. Very old-school style hip hop track… and I LIKE it. In his first verse, Pete starts to minister:
It’s become, sick to my tum, that folks/
Is rocking the same gators, same drumlins/
Same stick to the drum, stay working my patience/
They got me yellin oh Father cuz they seeking His Son/
They run around with Legos, the only brick stackin/
And they [sic.] Super soakers, the only gun packin/
And I’m here to scream cut, I’m tired of the actin’/
And the talk about sluts, and backwards macking/
As if Tyler Perry haven’t shown ya’ll enough/
And ya’ll prance all around and do that stupid stuff/
Yeah, it grinds my gears a little; and I been grindin for years/
All to get looked down by my peers/
Cuz they, wanna be bad bitches and top dogs/
And they, wanna see the riches and work soft/
And I, stay on the clock, no plans to take off/
Bustin tail for the people, all to get shot over/
Before I go to the next track, I wanna extract a few more lines from the very end of the song, just so you won’t miss ‘em.
Us… we’ll always sing the blues/
‘Cuz all we care about is hairstyles and tennis shoes/
I’m sorry; having flashbacks to the last time some Jordans came out and Fox News got up in our a**es on national television. Still shakin my head bout that one…
The next track in the lineup, Weekend (See Some Thangs) featuring Takara Houston, kinda makes me jealous as I listen to it. Like I said, ya boy Earl Grey had his first car accident in 10 years a few weeks ago, so for this weekend and the last few, I’ve been stuck home, frustrated. Meanwhile, Mr. Al Pete sounds like he’s been thoroughly enjoying his weekends just fine. Can’t be mad I guess; at least he did the courtesy of dropping a dope track about it. Plus he threw a smooth vocalist in the mix; Takara Houston definitely takes the edge off of a bad situation like lemonade on the rocks. Or a reimbursement check. The track comes in with a sampled drum cadence you might hear at any high school football game— missed my own Homecoming game this Friday, by the way X-( — then the actual instrumental kicks in, and it’s all good from there on out. Very simple hi-hat, soft horns, traces of a guitar somewhere in the mix. The track really does make you wanna “Get up, get out and see some thangs”, as the chorus goes. Not half bad.
On track 10, Mr. Al Pete proceeds to get his gangster on. …Now, before you spazz on my choice of the word ‘gangster’ over ‘gangsta’ in the hip hop context, the song is called Fedora. You know, like the hats gangsters wore before gangstas walked the Earth, 1920’s-30’s style? Anyway, the loop’s got a sweet lean to it with a shaker keeping everything syncopated. Pete’s flow is perfectly relaxed to match the atmosphere of the track. My favorite element of the composition is the string section that buzzes into the foreground around 0:50 seconds in and again around 1:40. The overall track is not one that requires much thought; just a great listen for the ride that won’t make you feel stupid.
Speaking of stupidity, any time you hear intelligent words from a southern MC, ya gotta love it. ‘Cuz if you don’t, they go broke and start selling their souls to sell records like [insert ya favorite southern MC here]. Anyway, the track Delusional features Al Pete spitting this not-so-dumbed-down hook:
Define delusion, it’s self pollution/
Of anything or anyone’s mind confusion/
…Pathological sense, it don’t make it/
Tell ‘em that tho, they want you to relate /
From the promoters in Duvall, to the rebel guys/
Vindictive ladies is close to suicide/
Niggas with big cars, a muhfuckin’ governor/
And then they boys swear they all above ya/
The song goes on to deal with insecurity issues in the Black community and the plague of everyday-folk-to-overnight-superstardom, as well as the lies and misgivings that politicians use to manipulate minority audiences. (…Ya’ll do know that they do that, right? …Good.) What other southern DJ do you know of who would take the time to even address things like that? Much less do it over an instrumental that makes you bop.
…Funny enough, it’s natural that the word ‘bop’ be followed up with a track called Y.D.N. (Young Dumb Nigga). And speaking of funny, it’s hard to tell whether or not this track is a parody as it lays out the story of a young Black male specializing in self-destruction and belief in his own hype. It’s kinda like The Boondocks: it makes you laugh by capturing a reality that’s ridiculous. But if the reality is ridiculous, is it really anything to laugh at at all? Rapper Blu Gambino makes an appearance on the track, playing the role of the misguided brotha who tragically falls victim to his desire for instant gratification. Patience is a virtue, and it works much better than a bulletproof vest; once you hear the track, you’ll piece together what I’m getting at.
On that note, I would like to thank Al Pete for his patience as I was writing this review; it’s always my goal to get ‘em out quickly, but I gotta make sure things are done correctly, too. Overall, I love the fact that you don’t have to skip tracks on this project. Ya know why? Because— like I said before — Mr. Al Pete has an ear. That’s what I love about MCs that also DJ; they understand both word AND sound. You might get a dope MC with songs that are hard to swallow, but when you’ve got a DJ that can spit you get a project that, if nothing else, sonically makes sense.
The final track on the project, Outro, embodies that sensibility of sound, as the Mr. just speaks a few words of truth over an accappella performance provided by MJ Baker. The vibe of the album in its totality truly is that of a Fish in the Forest: it’s out of place with no other sound or message in mainstream rotation right now to complement it. At the same time, there’s something beautiful about the simple concept of a fish in a forest; likewise, this album is not overwhelmingly lyrical or suffering from overzealous production. It’s the hip hop music of a real person, and not a celebrity or gimmick. On the ‘real person’ idea, Pete kinda puts me in mind of a southern version of Common; not because of the lyricism, but because of his being a ‘man of the people’. You can tell Pete is a good dude from the core, and that alone does make him a fish in the forest. Support the album like you would if this was a Y.D.N. from yo neck uv da wudz.