The Lonely Island – The Wack Album
Release Date: June 11, 2013
Record Label: Universal Republic
Regardless of all the times the members might yell “WE STARTED THIS FAKE RAP SHIT!,” it’s clearer now than ever that The Lonely Island are some of the realest rappers in the game. Having successfully accrued Grammy nominations, notched a billion Youtube views, and put together guest star lists that would make Jay-Z jealous, it’s evident that The Lonely Island’s constant callbacks to fake rapping are nothing more than a humbling mantra and mission statement for the hugely successful comedy trio. And while their third record The Wack Album may be the group’s weakest effort to date, it still shows off their abilities as hook writers and as the preeminent hip-hop satirists in today’s industry. And for anybody to find longevity in such an otherwise ‘15 minutes of fame’ career field? Well, that’s something I know I’d brag about.
Having started off both their first two records with perpetually high-energy tracks (the first discussing the unforgivable crime of calling one ‘wack,’ the second about rap music demanding their return), the trio opt to go a different route this time around, albeit one that is still fairly prevalent in the rap world: the career summation. The aptly-named ‘Dramatic Intro’ features a cavalcade of guest voices, amongst which I recognize (at least) Jane Lynch and Kenan Thompson. The guys are back to their old tricks quickly, though, having literally come back to life within the first 2 minutes of the album.
Following that, we float along a six-track hot streak, focusing on what the group does best: ripping on rap tropes. All the classics are here, from a one-upping take on songs that feature lyrics directing people in the club (“Go Kindergarten”), all the way to a spot-on parody of set-up/punchline hip-hop songs (“Semicolon”). In fact, even when the songs have concepts with shorter shelf-lives, there are more than enough positive supplemental aspects to make up for it (see: Pharrell’s vocals on “Hugs” and the hilariously frustrating fact that you will inevitably need to look up the lyrics to “Spell It Out”). For these first seven tracks, the group is firing on all cylinders: incredibly slick production, meager running times, perfectly placed guest spots, and the most believable ‘gangster’ vocals from the guys to date (complete with personas this time around; shout out to J-Orgus). If this were a seven-track EP, it’d undoubtedly be the strongest effort from The Lonely Island to date.
Up to this point in the album, we’d been hearing fairly aggressive songs chronicling the misadventures of three guys who probably aren’t that tough, but are definitely doing a good job at feigning it. That guise topples down fairly quickly, though, in the form of an interlude entitled “Where Brooklyn At?” Suddenly Akiva and Jorma are just two normal guys in New York and Andy is a crazed (presumably) homeless man? Changing that consistent perspective so abruptly at such a high point on the record is very frustrating for two reasons. One is that making Andy the wacky comedic foil to Kiv and Jorma’s straight men in these sketches has never fully landed. At most, I just get the impression that they wanted a way to shoehorn in funny voices, and the tracks overall always fail to land. It didn’t work in ‘Normal Guy’ on Incredibad, and it still doesn’t now. Secondly, the interludes and the spoken word tracks break up the flow of the album, a fairly large problem when the rest of the running time is spent trying to spin this immensely white, two-thirds Jewish group as (somewhat) hardened rap moguls.
Unfortunately, these lowlights prove to be the rule for more of the disc’s middle section. The fashion commentary (and Hugh Jackman-hiding; seriously, is he even on there?) on “You’ve Got The Look” is tolerable enough, but it would be a lot better if it weren’t for the fact that it was written by the same people who wrote this song. In comparison, “You’ve Got the Look” seems strikingly similar, and now, a hell of a lot lazier. The one thing the song has going for it is that it’s immediately followed by “I’m A Hustler (Song?),” one of the most confusing and unfunny cuts from the release and eliciting similar complaints to the ones I had for the last interlude.
This three-track passage really bears a question: is ‘fake rap’ fame and respect the goal for The Lonely Island? It certainly doesn’t have to be, but if it is, the best bet might be to find a way to either integrate these interloping tracks naturally into the personas or cut them altogether. Leaving two or three peppered about a release haphazardly does nothing more than create a disconnect in tone with the rest of the material, leaving me to ask questions about the preferred endgame of it all. Now, I don’t want to write a 1,000 word diatribe breaking apart a comedy album that spends three minutes promoting incest. It’s just that we all know what these guys are capable of when the jokes land hard, and a more singular vision heading into the studio for record number four would almost surely make for a stronger release.
Once again, though, to our misfortune, ‘stronger’ doesn’t quite describe the second half of The Wack Album. The next ten tracks are what many would view as a very traditional set for a comedy CD: quality all over the scale, with brilliance and utter failure scattered in between as well. Most comedy albums are just that: a mixed bag, but a mixed bag with a little something for everyone. It’s within this section that we see more fantastic hip-hop satire in the triumphantly mayoral (and equally literal) “I Run NY,” and yet another angle on the ‘these guys are trying so hard to be tough, but they’re clearly in love with each other’ bit with “The Compliments.” I will say, though, I left that track hoping I could focus on how they keep that joke so fresh after three albums, but the only thing in my head as it finished was how the Too $hort feature was just a little bit off. Choppy and dragging, the feature can’t be everything the three vocal fanatics of old-school West Coast hip hop wanted.
Alright, look, I could keep rattling off praise and criticism for an album like this, but you get the point and I’ve blabbered enough already. The Lonely Island have revolutionized both popular music and comedy in heartily different ways; they’ve shown superstar pop artists that hey, it’s okay to let loose, have a little fun, talk about something dirty, or drive home choruses about your favorite pirate. They’ve also (however much intentional) justified the idea of satirical music receiving sincere merit, arguably more than anyone has since Weird Al released “Amish Paradise.” These types of albums are always going to have huge jams and little bits and pieces you confusedly fast forward through—that’s just par for a course like this. And while I do believe in the idea that The Lonely Island could benefit from narrowing their focus should they record a fourth record, I also can’t be a scrooge if over half of the tracks on a comedy album cracked me up. So sure, I have my gripes, and this album certainly has its flaws, but I’d be lying to myself and all of you if I called it ‘Wack.’
I agree with a lot of the points in this review. I suppose it might feel a little bit greater if "3-Way" (it's two years old now!) and "YOLO" were fresh in my mind. They're certainly some of the best tracks, but some of the novelty has worn off by now. Also, I'm really surprised they left off "Lazy Sunday 2."
This album is great. Hilarious (for the most part) and actually musically really good. I may just be biased because I'm a massive Green Day fan, but I Run NY is probably the best on the album, along with Spring Break Anthem and 3 Way.