09 November 2012

Review: The Greatest Story Never Told Chapter 2: Bread and Circuses

"Bread and Circuses" is a metaphor for a superficial means of appeasement. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the creation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace, as an offered "palliative." The phrase also implies the erosion or ignorance of civic duty amongst the concerns of the common man.

I figure it was only right to start this review with some context. Now that you know the albums theme we can move on to the emcee. Saigon has been putting in work since 2000 and finally released his first LP last year (2011). Commercially it did not fair well but most albums that the BITM crew bump normally don't. Saigon has a simple motto: do not compromise lyrics to sell more records. He is a self proclaimed "progressive emcee". He can be viewed as a positive/conscience rapper who is still able to keep his lyrics "street" as well as being able to be introspective and provide messages of self-empowerment and social responsibility. This has been true in his 10 mixtapes as well as his first LP: The Greatest Story Never Told. So here is the rundown of the follow up The Greatest Story Never Told Chapter 2: Bread and Circuses.

The intro track Plant the Seed (What U Paid For) has a concrete theme that is found throughout the album. The perception of reality vs fiction. Saigon observes that everyone claims to be "gettin it" and "ballin" but people are just caught in a pretend world. Little boys crave material things and little girls fall into stripping because mothers are indifferent. Saigon could foresee these issues becoming more prevalent due to the lack of positive messages in hip-hop. The line that sums it up for me is: "who the heck is listening if everybody rapping?" The chorus echoes this sentiment: "Hope you got what you pay for..I know you got what you pay for". The next verse talks about the fake gangster rappers. They paid for their mobster persona. So they get out what they put in. Saigon has been through the correctional system and is very aware of the consequences of claiming false affiliations.

Rap vs Real is a simplified extension of the previous track. The message is still very complex but his delivery is stripped down to feel like he is giving a speech. The whole song creates a constant image of juxtaposed realities. "You in the club and you always strapped (that's rap)/ ask Shyne how that 10 years feel (that's real)/ you make it rain you be throwing them stacks (that's rap)/ but when your daughter choose to work in that field (that's real)..." The repetition of the conflicting duality of "rap vs real" is very powerful. Saigon is able to give us intricate lyrics but chooses to present a track that is void of poetic tricks to make sure the message is what shines from each verse and chorus.

Probably his biggest feature is with Styles P for the Not Like Them track. This is definitely a classic Yardfather type beat provided by DJ Corbett. Saigon is back with a true hard "street" track that has kept his fan base loyal for over 10 years. "I kinda get why I'm legit/ Mostly to the folks who think dominant/ I see why dishonest shit is so prominent/ See the kids that rhyming it that aint live not a line of it/ You aint hood money not good money you counterfeit." Saigon again gives his perspective on the disconnect with people who claim to be "bustin guns" but only hide behind a dishonest image. He claims record labels are scared of his real gangster background, but it is his socially conscience message that really makes him a threat. Styles P provides a prefect supplement to this track as he is also known as a credible street emcee who is able to spit about topics bigger than what goes down on the block.

The Game Changer is a Marsha Ambrosia assisted track that chronicles Saigon's stint with his first major record label, Atlantic. When Saigon was signed he was given the label "formula" for the majority of hip-hop artists, have chart topping/ radio friendly/club banging singles to create buzz for the rest of the album. But they "failed to realize that he rhymes for the cause", dumbing down his lyrics and adding to the negative hip-hop image was not in Saigon's plans. When Saigon asked to get Trey Songz for his first single, the label assumed it would be for a song talking about "banging girls". Instead he created the powerful song Pain In My Life (if you haven't heard it..peep immediately..after you finish this review). Saigon expected the label to receive it with open arms, instead he was greeted with resistance. From that point Saigon knew that he was in the wrong situation. He felt that this blueprint was for the rest of the artists, not him, his music needed a purpose/message. While he did make some money, it left him unfulfilled and ashamed that hip-hop seems to want garbage. Realizing this Saigon put more effort to being one of the few emcees that "delivers great songs without flossing/ without talking about shit aint isn't important."

If you have never heard a Saigon track before then start with Blown Away (actually watch the video..Saigon is able to gives us visual experience to an already powerful track). As I've been listening to this LP, past tracks and interviews I couldn't help compare him to the original teacher, KRS ONE. This song is the perfect example of an emcee that not only has a strong knowledge of hip-hop history but just history in general. And it is this layer of intellect that adds to Saigon's complex persona. The video for this track has Saigon in a classroom trying to spit knowledge to a room full non attentive students. This is the basis of the song: the next generation is one that is overcome by a dangerous apathy for social involvement and lack of self pride. Saigon raps about figures like MLK, Huey Newton, Clarence Smith, Marvin Gaye, Tupac, and JFK who spent their short lives either fighting for social equality or speaking about educating the youth to live a better way. As he desperately tries to reach the kids in the classroom he is met with indifferent expressions. At the end his list Saigon includes himself, he is aware that he has made a conscious effort to make sure he belongs among these great men. 

Saigon has said that the biggest change from his first LP to this one was money. Even though Atlantic ultimately wanted to mold him into a revenue generating machine, they still provided him with resources to have a larger budget. And it shows. Some songs have sub par productions. His big name features are also cut down. But this does not take away the overall quality of the The Greatest Story Never Told Chapter 2: Bread and Circuses for me. His first LP was praised for its consistency and sincerity. It was a balance of grimy street stories intertwined with positive social commentary. This album is a seamless continuation of his previous project. Saigon has made it clear that he rather put out music that he is proud of then be another cog in the hip-pop empire. While in jail he became an avid reader and was introduced to a rapper who was able to incorporate positive messages in his lyrics even though they were surrounded by negative influences and people. Saigon is in his mid 30's and a father of two little girls (listen The Vowel Song, if you don't smile when you hear it..you have no heart), and his past experiences as a "thug" have given him a clear vision: what he says has impact. Now he has two tangible faces that he influences. It is little girls like his that will grow up not knowing of life before hip-hop. We expect hip-hop to grow as a culture that will penetrate businesses and organizations that we can't even imagine today. The danger is to have kids graduate from Hip-Hop University with teachers that promote negative images. Saigon knows better than most that all actions have consequences. And his actions as an emcee will have reactions in lives that are not only his own. Along with his children their are others that look to him as a model. Thankfully Saigon has chosen to be a teacher of the "real" instead of "rap". 

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