Cali Swag District: THE KICKBACK

Capitol Records/Courtesy

Party rap acts are a dime a dozen these days. Without a fresh flow, creative beats or some sort of gimmick, it’s hard for an artist to stand out in a sea of Ke$ha and Lil’ Wayne knock-offs. For Inglewood’s Cali Swag District, this gimmick was undoubtedly their resident dancer M-Bone. The rap group, which now consists of rappers Yung and JayAre and rapper/DJ C-Smoove, made it big last year with the single “Teach Me How to Dougie” and its popular dance that M-Bone performed in their YouTube video. Unfortunately, M-Bone was killed in a drive-by shooting a few months ago, a tragedy that has not only left a hole in their hearts but in their music. CSD’s debut album, The Kickback, attempts to offer a witty, dancefloor soundtrack, but without an actual dancer(,) they lose the edge that made them famous.

The Kickback follows the party rap album formula flawlessly: Repetitive, catchy choruses? Check. Simple, 1-2 step club beats? Check. Egocentric lyrics about bitches and blunts? Check. They even threw in some token trashy R&B tracks for good measure. Their attempts at witty rhymes often fall flat (“And the flow fresh out the oven/ And I’m fresh out the wood with an ax like Paul Bunyan/ Make them girls cry like a fresh cut onion”) and their flow is nothing special, but party rap does not necessitate poetic talent, only the ability to entertain. The album is amusing (It sticks to the formula, after all) — but not amusing enough. It now becomes apparent just how dependent CSD’s appeal was on their viral dance.

The album features the laid-back street vibe of more traditional hip-hop, which is both refreshing and worrisome. Electro-house production appears to be the flavor of the week — every rapper from Chris Brown to Pitbull is jumping on this bandwagon. CSD’s sound is indeed great for a kickback, but it may struggle to win over club audiences, party rap’s largest consumers. That is not to say that they need to rush out and find themselves a house DJ; they just need to find a comparable gimmick. Their dance aspect made them a strong competitor before, but The Kickback lacks that extra something to take it beyond mediocrity.