Heralded by critics as a nerdcore must-own and celebrated by fans as a new high-water mark for the venerable Keith A. Moore, With Sprinkles has generated buzz on par with what it actually deserves. And that's a rarity in any musical community.
Still, there are a couple of interesting points about the album that haven't, to my mind, been properly expounded upon. At least not yet.
And so I will break it down for you. Old school track-by-track style.
- "Up, Up, and Away"
Beefy's newest kicks off with a joint that has Dual Core producer c64's fingerprints all over it. And this is a good thing. Bright, snappy and soulful, it's an intro track that does what it should; it starts the album off with a bang and lets the listeners know that this is no ordinary nerdcore affair. Lyrically, it's solid but not flashy. Yet it allows Beef to demonstrate a flow more cleanly polished than ever before. Admittedly, the Heath Ledger love seems a little out of place, but it works within the confines of an incredibly strong number.
- "None of Your Business"
"None of Your Business," with its heavy 60s psychedelia guitar drone and sharply layered vocals, is as much a departure for Beefy as it is for producer tanner4105. The flow is lightening fast, the vibe infectious, and, though I have minor issue with the vocal mix, it's a definite keeper.
- "Duh-Nuh Nuh-Nuh Nuh-Nuh"
The same can be said for swinging debut of the album's third rotating producer, Mustin of The OneUps. It pushes a well-known Koji Kondo movement into distinctly soulful territory. Beefy's lyrical focus shifts from nerd pride ruminations to braggadocio and into the blissful realm of the nonsensical hook. It caps the album's intro triplet well and prepares you for the wild ride to follow.
- "Game Store Girl"
An understated transition leads us to an album track that was long ago leaked but still remains imminently charming. "Game Store Girl" is a musical tribute to Beefy's real life lady, and it plays up his penchant for the relatable narrative. It's not his best showing on the album, but it's amazingly groovable and boasts a phenomenal chorus.
- "Geek Out"
Five tracks in we hit the album's recent single "Geek Out," a high-energy jam that marks the third Mustin-produced track in a row. Like its predecessor, it's not at all unsatisfying, but also far from the album's strongest material. Beef again shows off his rapid-fire flow with some rather dated references and a simplistic lyrical hook that's reminiscent of his earlier work. If nothing else, it serves to remind us that the old Beefy is alive and well.
- "Ones & Zeroes [f. YTCracker]"
One-third of the way in, we hit With Sprinkles' first unequivocal stand-out. Beefy and his Nerdy South cohort YTCracker rap with ones and zeroes – much to the contrary of what Beefy said in the album opener – and both MCs have never sounded better. Above Tanner's cut-up ragtime hook, the duo demonstrates impeccable swagger as they preach the gospel of the Spam God.
- "Join My Guild"
Switching things up is a tribute to MMOs in general and web sensation The Guild in particular. Mustin's take on Don Schiff's theme riff is nothing short of inspired, and Beefy's rhymes are like honey. Sweet and potentially sticky.
- "Different Language"
Beefy returns to the familiar subjects of nerd pride and keeping shit geekily real in "Different Language." With call-backs to nerd culture touchstones as well as his previous work, it comes off without a hitch and elicits proper head-bobbing along the way. The beat is another Mustin masterpiece with added violin by Elaine Li, which goes a long way in making the song pop even among this treasure trove of top-shelf material.
- "Player [an interlude]"
At the half-way point, Beefy and tanner4105 revisit the motif they employed in Rolling Doubles' "Clueless," but manage to turn a simple interlude track into a veritable gamer anthem. A two-minute powerhouse, it hits the spot after a pair of beautifully understated songs.
- "Press Start [f. Dual Core]"
"Press Start" keeps things in the gamer vein with the help of both members of Dual Core. Beefy and int 80 sound great, but the true star of this one is c64's breezy beat and flawlessly overlaid scratches.
- "Bestestist (Mustin Mix)"
"Bestestest" is one of those tracks that's been in my collection for what seems like forever, but Mustin's new mix is another triumph. It's warbly, wet and wonderful, and the keyboard solo before the final chorus is nothing short of gold!
- "Give Me My Gun [f. Dr. Awkward]"
Before Awkward ever makes a proper appearance on this track you sense his presence. Like a temperamental ghost or a fart in an elevator, it is a weighty, serious, commanding energy that makes you take notice. Beefy incorporates Doc's own style – that intoxicating blend of take-no-prisoners hip-hop and flawless rock 'n' roll hooks – to great effect for a match made in heaven. Interestingly, just as Beefy tweaks his flow in a slightly more aggressive manner, Dr. Awkward softens his a tad to compensate. An amazing showing from both artists, and another albums highlight.
- "Smiles Times [f. Epic-1 & Schaffer The Darklord]"
Combining three of my favorite MCs from a trio of nerd rap hotspots – Florida, New York and, of course, the Pacific Northwest – "Smiles Times" is a party anthem packed with perfect (and illegally used) samples. And also weed. In short, it's a summertime memory in the making.
- "Feature Creep"
Remember "Movie Girl" from Beefy's Whitesican EP? This track focuses on the male equivalent of the protagonist from that skit. From the old dick-in-the-popcorn routine to in-theater spoilers, "Feature Creep" is a douche bag highlight reel with funky accompaniment. The flow is another return to classic Beefy style, but you won't mind as it also showcases his engaging storytelling.
Another fantastic showing by Beef Thompson and c64, "Sidekick" reps nerd culture's favorite second bananas. Giving Luigi and Tails props is clever enough, but the final verse, which pays proper respect to one Dick Grayson, is the track's true haymaker. Perfectly layered and expertly executed on both ends, it starts the album's inevitable wind-down in style.
- "One of These Nights"
Playing to Tanner's strengths – his bootleg remixes are the stuff of legend – this track cuts ups the Eagles classic of the same name and pairs it with a proper backbeat. Beefy plays off that backing as he riffs on classic rock, hard living and harsh self-realization. In spite of my deep-seeded hatred of all things Don Henley, this one is an undeniable keeper.
- "Uncanny [f. MC Lars]"
Recently unveiled during the April podswap on my very own podcast, "Uncanny" sees Beefy and longtime pal MC Lars waxing nostalgic about the 90s X-men cartoon. The original theme song is nicely retooled by Mustin, and Beefy's one man call-and-response chorus is a winner. I take minor issue with its placement – this sounds much more like a mid-album cut to me – but it's still a fun ride.
- "So Far Gone"
Albums have to start strong and finish stronger, and Beefy and 64 accomplish this by closing out With Sprinkles with what is possibly the project's best track. Atop another crystal clear beat, Beefy holds nothing back. He celebrates the good times and looks toward a bright future, all the while repping his nerdcore forbears MC Frontalot and (more obviously) Optimus Rhyme. While Beefy assuming the Autobeat mantle of leadership in verse may seem a little presumptuous, it's nothing less than what Wheelie himself commanded. And, after hearing With Sprinkles, it's an honor that he's most certainly earned.
Critiquing your friends work is, as I've said in the past, a fool's errand. You're either going to hurt someone's feelings or be called out for being too soft. In both regards I have been rather fortunate thus far
Still, once in a while an album comes along that genuinely fulfills an artist's true potential. At that point, all that trepidation goes right out the window.
I expect a lot from Beefy. Artistically-speaking, I mean. In fact, it could be rightly said that I hold him to a higher standard than many more successful and well regarded nerd rappers. A number of which, I know for a fact, Beef looks up to himself.
This is because, due to our lengthy working relationship, I have had the good fortune to hear the man at his best. I know what he's capable of, and this, my friends, is it.
With Sprinkles is not a perfect album. It's got some holes, as does any release, but it is a beautiful effort. A work of art by a cat who can't help but step his game up with each successive release. Though topping this one will be a most treacherous uphill climb.
Not only does Beefy bring it on every track, but his contributors, from his trio of top-rate producers to the veritable who's-who of nerdcore elite that add their own distinct vocal flavors to the proceedings, do as well. (Okay, admittedly Lars sounds a little lackadaisical at times, but that's sort of his shtick.)
With Sprinkles is a Beefy album like none before. It shows a fascinating depth of lyricism and an almost overwhelming dedication to artistry. It is, in short, a personal triumph from Mr. Thompson, and that more than accounts for its numerous accolades from the nerdisphere and beyond.
More importantly, it's a nerdcore album like no other, and with its release Beefy truly joins the ranks of the Frontalots and the Dual Cores and the Optimus Rhymes of the world. He has surely made his own indelible musical mark.
For me, though, the album stands out simply by capitalizing on four of my favorite things: hip-hop, nerd life, uncleared samples and, of course, the big man himself.
Just go buy it. Now.
"Other rappers are the corn flakes; I'm the prize that waits inside."