Up in Smoke 

Method Man and Redman miss mark with pothead duet album

Method Man and Redman miss mark with pothead duet album

Method Man & Redman

7 p.m. Nov. 9 (w/Limp Bizkit & System of a Down) at Gaylord Entertainment Center

For ticket information, call 255-9600

Method Man and Redman may be two of the most intense, least compromising street rappers around today. But when the friends pair up, as they’ve been doing regularly since their 1996 hit “How High,” they transform into the hip-hop version of pothead comics Cheech and Chong.

In the past, their stoner routine has provided welcome comic relief amid their usual unrelenting style. But right now, just as the two have crossed into multi-platinum territory with a couple of the hottest-selling rap albums of the last year, the two choke their momentum with an off-kilter duet album, Blackout!, that is neither as funny or as fierce as it’s meant to be.

Part of the reason is that the two rappers aren’t clever enough to make the heavy-smoking routine carry the amount of weight they give it. Unfortunately, they also stumble at what they usually do best: Redman’s careening madness and exuberantly wild wit seem sluggish through most of Blackout; Method Man also lacks the charisma and suave intelligence that gave dimension to his king-of-the-thugs style on past recordings.

In bouncing off each other for an entire 17-song album, they both dim what makes them special. Perhaps it’s because they’re such good friends: Instead of tearing into their rhymes, they seem to hold back, as if making sure that they don’t appear to challenge each other to a cutting contest. Or maybe all that smoke fogged their clarity and slowed everything down. Whatever the reason, Blackout is a dull roar from two of rap’s most ferocious young lions.

One thing’s clear, though: At some point they decided to turn their taste for marijuana into a marketing theme. Over the last year, the two have openly paraded their allegiance to pot, puffing joints during interviews with the regularity of pack-a-day smokers.

To underscore this image, they originally planned to name the new duet album America’s Most Blunted, putting the stoner metaphor upfront to make their buzz-of-choice as clear as possible.

But pressure from their record label and from distributors persuaded them to change the name at the last minute, partly so the top-selling artists could keep getting the bleeped-out “clean” version of their CD in the conservative frontline retail slots of family-oriented stores like Wal-Mart and K-Mart.

The strategy worked, at least at first, as the album was the third biggest-seller in the nation the week it was released in late September. But the fact that it has steadily tumbled downward in sales since then shows that the duo have lost some of the ground they’ve gained in 1999.

Despite the change in album title, though, they’ve continued to carry out a Cheech-and-Chong-style marketing plan, which included a seven-minute video production called P.I.G.S. First shown during a radio promotion dinner in New York, then later flagged on the Def Jam Records Web site, the video shows the two hardcore rappers dressed in full Catholic nuns’ regalia—a surprising turn in itself in the self-consciously macho world of East Coast rap.

However, the two tongue-in-cheek hustlers are parading as nuns on a New York street corner in order to try and panhandle enough money to buy a bag of weed. In a play on the live-action C.O.P.S. TV series, the two are confronted by a squad car as they count their day’s take, a rolled-up smoke dangling from Method Man’s lips as they thumb through their dough under their habits. The plot then turns into a lengthy, comical chase that takes them through a variety of scenes before they jump into a subway car and make their getaway.

Their new “Tear It Off” video continues along the same lines. It begins with two whacked-out rappers attending a wrestling match, only to end up in the ring and in the middle of the action—sounds like something a couple of stoner ’70s comics would do, doesn’t it? So does the plot of a movie script the two collaborated on, which would put them in the starring role of two pothead street hustlers who, through a series of blunders, get admitted to an Ivy League college.

They also open the new album with “Special Joint,” a comic skit where they drawl their words as if mimicking Cheech and Chong themselves. They end the album with a reprise of “How High,” the puff-dude anthem that started the duo on this kick. Unfortunately, the catchy, energized interaction of “How High” only serves to show how listless the majority of Blackout! is.

It’s the sort of career move that could only have been born in a haze. A similar strategy bombed for Cypress Hill, the West Coast rap trio who flaunted their pot-party devotion with cover-art references and stage props. And while the duo’s high-times move could be a predictable extension of Redman’s rapid-fire, wild-eyed, joke-filled persona, it’s a puzzling choice for Wu Tang Clan honcho Method Man, who always came on like a disciplined warrior who valued intelligence as much as brute force or street-hustling action.

The false move comes at a time when these two working-class rappers had the chance to add significantly to their cultural impact. They’ve both been riding a big wave since last winter, when their two long-delayed solo efforts—Meth’s Tical 2000: Judgment Day and Redman’s Doc’s the Name 2000—sold in seven-figure numbers that neither rapper had previously attained. Their popularity helped the “Hard Knock Life” tour, which also featured Jay-Z and DMX, become the most successful U.S. rap tour of all time, outdistancing better-financed, better-hyped packages, such as the Smokin’ Grooves tours.

The duo also starred in this year’s hard-rock-leaning Family Values tour, which featured Korn and Limp Bizkit as headliners. They continue to reap benefits from rap’s connection to the nihilistic sound of Limp Bizkit, as they are spending the fall as part of that band’s “Billionaire Pirates” tour package.

Of course, in an apparent attempt to flood the market while they’re hot, the two also have new solo albums in December. Let’s hope they saved their best musical joints for those collections. Because, as far as Blackout goes, it’s pure skunkweed from some usually reliable lyrical dealers.

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