The thing about “fandom” is that no matter how civil and polite you may be towards your fellow human when you venture out into the world to run errands, this civility has no hold whatsoever on your ability to argue with them over relatively minor details for hours on end. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the case of hip-hop fans in regard to a rapper’s use of bravado. Certainly one could argue that such a complaint is utterly pointless in any form of music, (clearly, John Lee Hooker never wore a “rattlesnake for a necktie” as he proclaimed in “Who Do You Love?”) but nevertheless, so-called “hip-hop purists” love to reprimand anyone who refers to their wealth or uses “swag” in a verse.
This particular debate is still wide open, but in all fairness, one should easily be able to notice that Rakim spent far more time crafting a single verse in the song “Paid In Full” than Soulja Boy did for the entire song “Turn My Swag On” which are both, in essence, songs about having a great deal of money. Whichever side of this argument you end up on, the truth of the matter is that hip-hop has come an incredibly long way from being a genre that The Grammys refused to telecast, to being one of the most popular forms of music worldwide. This seemingly global acceptance has done very little in ending the debate over “lyrics versus style” and in all likelihood, never will end it.
Enter West Virginia native Ghani Gautama, who with the help of Lovelorn Records has just released ‘Cigarette Breaks,’ a five song E.P. that will make even the most elitist rap fan stand up and take notice. Imagine, just for a moment, being greeted with a line like “The light of hope is burning dim.” as you walk into a room. That is exactly how ‘Cigarette Breaks’ opens with the song “Jesus Don’t Want Me For Middle Management,” and while saying that this is a grim-sounding statement would be true, saying that the aforementioned phrase sets the mood for the entire release would be entirely inaccurate. There is a tone to every lyric spoken that suggests hope, or at the very least, persistence in spite of a lack of hope. Where many rappers would leap at the chance to boast about every achievement in their life, Ghani Gautama does what is sadly the most unexpected thing from a rapper in 2013: he tells the truth.
In the title track, he lets you take a glimpse into his personal life by vividly painting his own unique portrait of the menial tasks and day-to-day frustrations that we all deal with. He then brings you a little closer in “Only Human” (which features high-quality verses from Walter Kronkite and Feather Fly Focus) where he raps about the realization that he has put far more time and effort into his craft than he has gotten back so far. However, this is not a bitter man lamenting his existence via clever lyricism; this is a man showing you his true self and assuring you that he will not be going away anytime soon. On the closing track “Save Me A Spot” (featuring the leader of Lovelorn Records, Crocker), Ghani assures, “Baby, I already told you that I was crazy, you don’t have to call me darlin’ just don’t ever call me lazy. Please don’t be amazed at the way that the game has played me, I’ve been breaking the rules, making these fools chase me.”
All in all, “Cigarette Breaks” leaves you not only wanting more, but requiring more. Any fan of hip-hop who longs for the days of “lyrics over swag” will appreciate this and immediately want to dive into previous releases. In fact, anyone who enjoys heartfelt music of any genre would do well to give this a few listens, for a lesson in honesty if nothing else.