Prince Paul, aka Pablo Rockwell, was born in Queens and raised in Long Island, New York. He was the DJ and producer for the first hip-hop band, Stetasonic, and produced De La Soul’s classic 1989 album 3 Feet High and Rising, along with other artists such as Queen Latifah, Big Daddy Kane, Gravediggaz and Slick Rick, as well as three Grammy-winning albums for comedian Chris Rock. He can also be seen on various VH1 specials and hosts the Scion AV All Purpose Show and Paul vs. Paul with his son, DJ Pforreal. He is at work on a new album due later this year.
Back in the mid 2000’s, a friend of mine told me a black guy who raps has the #2 album on the Billboard country chart. I was like, “Oh sh*t! That’s pretty interesting that rap is so mainstream now!” It was like when Tiger Woods won over the golf crowd: People of color in not-so-popular-with-people-of-color territory, how cool! That’s what led me to listen to Cowboy Troy’s new album King of Clubs. It’s very reminiscent of ’80s-style hip-hop, like if Sir Mix-a-Lot was at a hoedown. That’s the basic formula for the style of music that Cowboy Troy calls “hick-hop.” Everything from the arrangements to the song structure to the lyric concepts to the mixing sounds perfect, like pop music should sound, and this record should sell trillions.
But that’s where I think King of Clubs ultimately falls short. It’s a little too perfect. The album is full of good, solid songs but they sound as though someone said, “Hey, Troy, you need to make some catchy music like you did with that hit you had back in 2005, ‘I Play Chicken with the Train.'” Though it might not be a popular idea, I’m sure Cowboy Troy has a little more to talk about than just drinking, rednecks and dancing — and I say this respectfully.
Bubba Sparxxx guests on “Club Criminal” and he sounds right at home, blending nicely with Cowboy Troy on the vocals. It’s fun music for dancing with beer, broads and pitchforks — throw in a vocoder/Auto-Tune effect and a dance beat to get the party moving and you’ve got one of the brighter moments on the album. But if I were to pick a favorite here, it would be “Is Everybody Doing OK,” featuring a couple of pro wrestlers — Mickie James and Cowboy James Storm. It’s a funky hip-hop country song with lines like “Can I see some hands raised/and I see some t and a?” Who can get mad at that?
Other songs come closer to more country-style music, like “Daisy Dukes and Cowboy Boots,” featuring Big & Rich. You can tell by the title that it’s about a woman doing her stuff on the floor in her short-shorts and country footwear. “We’re all buzzing like a saw,” says Troy. “The girls will make you say ‘hee-haw.'”
I could see “Rope It Off” being the next single off of the album. It’s a song dedicated to a dance of the same name — possibly something you can visualize your grandma and little nephew doing: “Step to the left, step to the right,” etc., etc. Throw a shuffle and some other moves in the mix and you got the rope it off. There’s a part of the song where you can freestyle your own moves to the beat — now, that’s enough to get your family and friends moving at your BBQ! Yee-haaaaa! Um, sorry, I was channeling my inner cowboy…
“Mack Truck,” featuring the Moonshine Bandits, D. Thrash and John Rich, is a country-style posse track about how a woman hit them like you know what kind of truck. The one thing that does stand out to me on this song is the arrangement: it’s nice to hear guitar and violin breaks, and hooks riding for a while. People don’t do that much anymore in music — well, in hip-hop, anyway. “Buzzed Up” is about drinking, of course, and “Giddy Up” is another country let’s-get this-party-started-type of song.
King of Clubs is only eight songs long, which is perfect for both the fan of the music and the-not-so-fan of the music. One brilliant thing is that it’s sequenced to run continuously like a non-stop party, the songs all blend into one another smoothly. If you are a hip-hop purist or a country music purist this album will probably make you die a slow death. But if you are a lover of non-threatening dance music, hook-friendly pop, or rap music with a country twist… well, this is the album for you, my friend!
Cowboy Troy seems to be a nice enough guy to invite to your dinner party, crack a few brews and maybe even line-dance with, if you’re drunk enough… He’s obviously had success with “hick-hop” and I’m not mad at him for that, and I’m not mad at the record label for seeing marketability in combining three big-selling genres of music — country, hip-hop and pop. But at some point things can become too formulaic, and that can hinder an artist and especially an album. When I produced De La Soul’s first album, we made “Me Myself and I” specifically for the radio, at the request of the label. This was great for marketing and world-wide commercial acceptance, but what made the album even better was all of the experimentation we did, the fun and the heartfelt song topics. That gave the listener a personal feeling about the music. And if De La is too outdated of an example, Kanye West is an another artist who combines pop and a style of art that says “Eff it, this is me.” I say all this with respect, because I think Cowboy Troy is more talented than what he demonstrates on this album. Sometimes in music, imperfection is the perfection.
Pop music lovers
Old people who are trying to be hip
Kids (the edited version, anyway)
Not recommended for:
Wu-Tang and Dilla music lovers
Hank Williams fan club members