Malkovich - Great Expectations
Few artists have the back story that Malkovich possesses. That isn’t to say it makes him better or worse, but it does give him a unique perspective to his lyrics and style of hip hop, and it’s essential to understand where he’s coming from to understand where he’s going with his music. His family history took them from the South Pacific island of New Caledonia to Iran right before his birth to Italy, and then Libya, before they finally landed in Los Angeles just in time for the riots of 1992. That’s a lot of political upheaval for one person to go through, and it comes through on his latest album.
Great Expectations is his first release since the Lethal Vice EP came out almost exactly a year before. With this new album, we get his most fully realized project to date. He worked with several different producers who you might not know by name, some from L.A. and some from the East Coast, but all are very talented. For an album with eleven producers over fourteen tracks, it’s extremely well sequenced. The style flows naturally from track to track, and it comes together well to create a unified sound for the entire album. The album is most definitely rooted in the hip hop of L.A. of the early ’90s, with obvious influence from groups like Cypress Hill, but there is also a definite connection to East Coast groups like Wu Tang and Mobb Deep as well. This is all to say that there is a dark, aggressive tone to a majority of the album, which pairs well with an emcee who’s got a lot of frustrations and urgent thoughts to get off of his chest. While I wouldn’t label Malkovich as “gangsta” rap, there is definitely a connection to the subgenre that has informed his musical expression. Lyrically, though, Malkovich does a great job of avoiding the lyrical pitfalls that many young artists fall in. He’s obviously a very smart man, and he does a fantastic job of letting the listener inside of his world, finding a way to relate how his experiences of living much of his life as an outsider, but balancing it with the good and the bad stuff he's experienced. He has every right to be angry at institutions and individuals that have pushed him aside, or have done him wrong, and he gives great nuance in his lyrics to give depth to his anger and frustration, which in turn gives his audience a chance to think about what causes cycles of poverty and violence. A song like “Lies” is a song that really encapsulates this, as Malkovich explores in depth the ways that people deal with the hardships of life, and the lies we tell ourselves to get through the pain that only contribute to the cycle of self destruction. It’s with huge weight to his words that he declares in the chorus, “It’s been easy livin’ and I ain’t scared to die. Know that’s a lie.” It also helps matters that EvilDewer lays down some grand, cinematic production, with swirling strings and some big horn hits that are reminiscent of Ghostface or Raekwon tracks. “Palms” seeks to give a face and a name to those struggling to survive in an area of Los Angeles that most people don’t even realize it exists. “The Meaning of Eyes” provides the nuanced discussion of romantic tension and temptation that I wish more hip hop had to it. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Yamin Semali provides some brilliant production, a haunting and seductive track with an amazing re-appropriation of a sample of The Beatles singing “I love to turn you on” from “A Day in the Life.” The only real slip-up on the album comes in the two-song lull that is “Get Away” and “Bedbugs.” “Get Away” just can’t quite escape the novelty of sampling the Cheers theme song, and “Bedbugs” just doesn’t come together at the chorus with the metaphor of bedbugs to tie the verses together.
Malkovich has been recording for a a few years, but Great Expectations is the culmination of a lot of hard work and the realization of his abilities as an emcee. He’s got a unique perspective, and he’s found a great balance between smart, big picture analysis and honest and emotional introspection. There have been roughly a million hip hop albums to come out of L.A.. It’s not easy to release an album in this day and age that both pays homage to that past and still sounds fresh, but Malkovich has done that here.