"Brian Wilson in a pimp hat."
That has to be the best description we've come across while perusing what folks have said about Antonious Thomas, the chocolate cat-daddy who now calls himself Cody ChesnuTT. Although his light-headed falsetto and occasionally innocent lyricism do remind you of the visionary Beach Boy, that comparison immediately gets knocked sideways when the pimp hat speaks. On "Bitch, I'm Broke," we hear ChesnuTT play down his poverty with the following blatantly blunt line: "I got a hard dick with a curve / That's all you deserve." It's impossible to imagine even the Wilson of his whacked-out prime coughing up a couplet like that.
"Bitch, I'm Broke" is just one of the many off-kilter tracks on The Headphone Masterpiece, the double-disc debut released last year that has won ChesnuTT heaps of praise. Musically, Masterpiece sounds like the kind of urbane utopia some out-of-work musician would conceive after a weekend-long Henny-and-weed binge, and word has it that ChesnuTT composed many of Masterpiece's songs at night, higher than a muh-fuh.
But in scouring the multitude of articles and reviews on the album, you always come across this common thread: The Headphone Masterpiece both rocks and sucks. For every track that displays ChesnuTT's flair for deeply pristine tunes, like "Serve This Royalty," there's one like "The Seed" that presents us with a goof-off who still needs work on his strumming skills. (Thank God the Roots took ChesnuTT under their wing and redid that tune together on Phrenology. The Philly hip-hop band salvaged it by giving it the fuzz-pedaled kick in the ass it sorely needed.) Masterpiece's lo-fi, low-grade aesthetic makes you wonder which tracks are actually thought- out compositions and which are ChesnuTT just futzing around with his home studio equipment.
But Masterpiece also shows the evolution of a musical performer from creatively and emotionally stifled musician to liberated singer-songwriter. The first disc is mostly odds and ends, chock-full of brief, apparently unfinished musical intervals that seem more intriguing than the completed songs they fall between. The second disc is more cohesive, full of tunes that sound like they were put together by a man who knows what he's doing now.
So while The Headphone Masterpiece may not be the work of genius it claims it is, at least it has a song in which a broke brotha lays down the law on a money-grubbing gal. You certainly won't find that on Pet Sounds. -- Craig D. Lindsey
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