Point of No Return
Over the years, rappers have addressed a lot of heavy, hard-hitting subject matter: drugs, poverty, gang violence, war, terrorism, environmental concerns, the death penalty, you name it. But hip-hop has its humorous side as well, going back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. And in some cases, rappers will combine the serious and the humorous. For example, Holland Dai’mon Witherspoon, a.k.a. Mr. Envi’, is a southern rapper who incorporates some sketch comedy on his seven-track EP Point of No Return.
This March 2013 release is not an exercise in total madcap comedy the way that the Fat Boys and Biz Markie, just to give two examples, specialized in madcap comedy during their 1980s heyday. Point of No Return, on the whole, is an edgy hardcore rap outing with a serious and aggressive tone. But Mr. Envi’ knows how to balance the comic and the serious, featuring his colleague UnMasked on two comic sketches (both of which draw on the type of edgy comedy made famous by Richard Pryor, Rudy Ray Moore and Redd Foxx, among others). And while those sketches aren’t representative of the EP on the whole, they lighten the load a bit and serve as a likable counterbalance to the serious tone that prevails on tracks like “Point of No Return,” “Back It Off,” “Where U From” and “Laura.” The latter should not be confused with the old David Raksin ballad/standard from 1944, which has been recorded by numerous jazz and traditional pop artists over the years and was the theme from the film noir favorite Laura (with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Vincent Price and Clifton Webb). Raksin’s “Laura” and Mr. Envi’s sexually candid “Laura” are two very different songs.
Mr. Envi’ was born in Greensboro, Alabama on July 15, 1978, and Point of No Return reflects his southern background. Hip-hop has quite a few regional variations these days. MCs from New York City and Philadelphia often have an identifiably northeastern flow, while MCs from Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco or San Diego often favor rapping styles (as well as beats) that are easy to identify as West Coast hip-hop. And on Point of No Return, it is quite easy to tell that Mr. Envi’ comes from the Dirty South school of hip-hop. Mr. Envi’s rapping on “Back It Off,” “Where U From,” “Re Up” and the title track is very much of the Dirty South variety, and adding to that Deep South appeal are the tracks that Mr. Envi’ raps over. The Alabama native’s beats are clearly southern beats. Further, the guest MCs that Mr. Envi’ features (who include Jeramie on “Back It Off” and J.B. on “Where U From”) also add to the EP’s Dirty South appeal. So between Mr. Envi’s rapping, the production, the guest MCs and the two comic sketches with UnMasked, this is a very southern-sounding release. On top of that, Mr. Envi’ calls his independent label Southern Stisles Records (southernstislesrecords.com); even if his rapping, beats and guest MCs didn’t draw attention to his southern background, the name of his record company would.
And from a marketing and promotional standpoint, that’s something Mr. Envi’ should be drawing attention to. The Dirty South school of hip-hop has been popular for a long time; from Master P’s No Limit empire in New Orleans to the crunk artists in Atlanta to all the successful MCs who have come from Florida, Alabama and the Carolinas in the 1990s, 2000s and early 2010s, southern hip-hop has been every bit as viable commercially as hip-hop from the Northeastern Corridor or the West Coast.
Granted, the popularity of the Dirty South field has made it more and more competitive (Alabama alone has a ton of competition). But Point of No Return is a decent effort, showing what Mr. Envi’ has to offer not only as a rapper, but also, as a producer and label owner.
Review by Alex Henderson
3 stars out of 5