I’ve always been a little jealous of Chamillionaire for thinking of that name before I did. These two words, so rarely associated, and yet so closely linked in sound, has a subtle and enduring brilliance. He’s a chameleon, which means that he changes color — color, which could be a metaphor for all sorts of things: rap style, ethnicity (think Michael Jackson), color of T-shirt (to switch gang affiliation) or any number of other meanings. And he’s a millionaire, which means he has money — money, so he can do many things: buy good producers for a hip-hop album, talk about how much money he has on said album, pretend to be a loan shark or even dream about vacationing on a beach with Rihanna under an umbrella. Ah, to be a member of the Color Changin’ Click.
Chamillionaire has released his second album, “Ultimate Victory,” and, though it’s no rap gem, it may be among the best mainstream hip-hop albums of the year. It’s listenable, and it has some great moments, but it mostly just runs in circles. That said, it is a bit more original than most popular rap released in 2007. Especially considering last week’s embarrassment from 50 Cent and the big letdown from Kanye West, “Ultimate Victory” is not that bad.
The album reveals a more politically minded Chamillionaire, a man who, as he professes, has lived on the streets, who has seen injustice and who feels compelled to share the truth. Of course, most of his insights could be garnered just as easily by reading The New York Times, but we won’t tell him that.
Chamillionaire opens the album with a pseudo news report, complete with background sirens and staccato strings. He tackles issues of corruption in politics and the media, racial oppression, and other undeniably important topics. He even styles himself as the anti-Bill O’Reilly (in the rapper’s own words, “Bill O’Reilly’s an idiot. He ain’t the only one with an opinion, fool”). But Chamillionaire offers no real insight into these issues, and most of his politicking is really just a straight catalog of the major controversies of the last 15 years. It’s self-consciously socially conscious.
I would rather listen to this, however forced, than the latest from Diddy, but I really wish Chamillionaire would offer something that I can’t find on NPR. Even an anecdote or two would help to illustrate the effects of corruption on a personal level.
It may just be that he has trouble illustrating his points, because when it comes to effortlessly acrobatic wordplay, Chamillionaire is not strong. His lyrics do have a slow-and-steady power reminiscent of Ice T: He’s just a simple guy saying important stuff in his own unpretentious way. Granted, sometimes he talks way too much about money and “groupie love” and idyllic vacations and how much he hates his girlfriend, but when he’s at his best, he’s pretty damn good.
And another thing — he uses no profanity on this album. That sounds pretty weird (I thought he was tough!), but really you don’t miss the swearing at all. It actually makes the whole project seem stronger. He’s badass without leaning on the trash talk crutch. He’s a guy who would fuck you up but never use that word to describe what he’s doing. He’s a southern gentleman at heart.
Unlike other southern rappers, though, he doesn’t rub his roots in your face. He has a track called “Welcome to the South,” which reminds us of his origins, but on other songs he talks about the L.A.-based Snoop Dogg, the Brooklyn-born Jay-Z and the Chicago-native Kanye West in a flattering light. There is minimal, if any, regional discrimination here. In essence, Chamillionaire is a rapper for America.