Review: Ryan Carter, Welcome to Planet Earth 2: Supreme (Machines) and Devolved (Monsters)
Ryan Carter, Welcome to Planet Earth 2: Supreme (Machines) and Devolved (Monsters)
Let’s face it. Rap music isn’t necessarily the genre one would expect to reflect the tragic Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, but Ryan Carter is known for surprises. He pushes the limits of contemporary rap both forward in time (innovation), and backward in time (political-cultural-2pac-rap). Ever since bursting onto the music scene in 2007 with his debut project, Saturday Night Superhero, Detroit native and hip-hop artist, Ryan Carter, has been steadily pushing against the boundaries of rap music. His album Welcome to Planet Earth: Grand (Schemes) and Bad (Dreams), released not long after the shooting, is followed this year by the release of Welcome to Planet Earth 2: Supreme (Machines) and Devolved (Monsters), which also deals conceptually with the often jarring truth of the world in which we live, and cease to live.
The album opens with “Intro,” which layers a plethora of news clips, interviews, and gunshots portraying the sharp and broken psychological state of society, and of perhaps Carter himself as he continues fixating on the darkness in our midst. The album then immediately slides into more traditional hip-hop—steady percussion beats and rhymes–but the lyrics referencing botox and stalking celebrities definitely catch the intellectual and political corner of the mind. In addition, the background loop of rhythmic, gruff moaning provides an undercurrent of dissatisfaction and even a little danger.
“Borrowed Time,” “Retarded,” and “Crappy” are significantly more upbeat, both lyrically and musically. “Borrowed Time” works with a catchy looped melody executed by the accordion, enhanced by smooth vocal beats, and the lyrics allow Carter’s highly developed sense humor to rise to the surface: ‘First and last song that will feature an accordion…’ “Retarded,” while lyrically a bit more serious at times—drug money, pregnancy—it still throws humor around—‘one night with me and she’ll wanna get divorced.’ The mesmerizing string loop makes it impossible to even think about switching the track, while at the same time the same gruff, moaning sound effect enters now and then, hinting that something more thought provoking will be on the scene again soon.
But not too soon. “Crappy,” is, in my opinion, hilarious. Sampling and warping the music of Pharrell Williams’ hit “Happy,” Carter changes the lyrics: ‘Beat me down my songs are too good/Crappy/Clap along if you feel my songs are killing you/Clap along if you wanna jump right through the roof.’ However, though I could be reading too much into it, I think the inclusion of “Crappy” on the album has an edgier underbelly than is immediately apparent. “Crappy” is placed between a semi-serious track and a much more dark humor/intense track, which definitely helps, in the sense of the album as a whole, to lace the funny spoof tune with a few sharp teeth.
The dark humor/intense tune, of course, is “Don’t Try to Do This.” Opening with screeching electric guitar and dubbed over yelling and screaming (as if at a protest rally or fight), the ninth track on Welcome to Planet Earth 2 is absolutely perfect anger music, complete with break downs of politics, misunderstood intentions, breaking away, and confrontation.
By this time in the album, we as listeners understand Carter to be a very talented lyricist who creates a meaningful experience in every tune, even when, and maybe especially when he samples the music from popular songs, allowing him to attack pop culture from both humorous and serious angles, both literal and figurative.
This balance is displayed very well in the side-by-side tracks “Burgers and Fries” and “Fox Mulder.” “Burgers and Fries” musically samples large chunks of Justin Timberlake’s hit ‘Suit and Tie,’ and while it doesn’t overtly make fun of anything specific in the way our society functions, it does change the lyrics to express love for burgers and fries, and simply through that action, belittles not only the music of Timberlake’s hit, but the themes as well. “Fox Mulder,” on the other hand, works with a more literal cultural commentary—‘I’m Disney’s Enchanted/wish granted/boobs implanted.’ The music starts to branch out into the innovative here—switching from common hip-hop loops to jazz standard samples and back again.
Along the same innovative vain, “Got a Hold On Me” might be the most interesting tune on the album, simply by nature of its contrast to the others, especially musically. A light, strumming guitar and rock-like snare drum comprise most of the background at first, layered with soft melodic vocals and easy, relatable lyrics—‘I got this problem/I can’t get enough of you.’ Then, BOOM. Carter whips out his humor again, but this time musically, by challenging every fiber in our ear drums, changing beauty and simple unrequited love into a violence—just like that—complete with overlapping walls of electric guitar sound and Eminem-like vocal assaults.
The other most notable track, at least for me, is “Friday Night,” which, amidst all the humor, interesting compositions, and political statements, seems incredibly lighthearted musically, even as it continues to push the boundaries word by word (jail time, tying up Miley Cyrus in the back of a car, etc…). Frankly, I love this track for its instrumentation—a throwback to early Deejay spinning and mixing, heavily rooted in grooving, charming piano chords, perfect percussion beats, and clear, rhyming vocals.
Welcome to Planet Earth 2: Supreme (Machines) and Devolved (Monsters) proves Ryan Carter to be both a hip hop musician, steeped in tradition and somewhat of an activist with the desire for the world to change. This album expands on the first of its kind very nicely, while also making a trail of its own, ever building on Carter’s name breaths of excitement, opening doors, humor, and surprise.
Reviewer: Alice Neiley
Rating: 4 stars out of 5