When you become one of New Orleans’ premier underground hip-hop artists overnight, what do you do for an encore? Well, if you’re Ballzack, West Bank native, you face a tough choice: ignore your bent (read: collegiate) artistic sensibilities and concentrate on what the kids on the street wanna hear, or say fuck the street and dive full-on into your own bedroom-studio antics. Rami Sharkey (for that is his real name) chose the latter m.o. for Chipmunk Dream Machine, his followup to 2002’s Knucklehead Memoirs. That CD opened with a quote from the indie-film classic Rushmore, and like that film’s protagonist, Max Fischer, Ballzack does lots of things very well. He just doesn’t do them for long. This is no longer the future of Crescent City hip-hop.
What it is instead, exactly, is hard to pin down. It’s as if the electric Beck of Stereopathic Soul Manure and One Foot In The Grave backed his forklift into MC Chris’ math class. Intentionally twisted shit, in other words, as evidenced by the near-classic opener, “Making Groceries”: “I’ma tell you that you love me, but I’m lyin’ through your teeth.” If you liked the twisted wordplay of the debut—essentially ’80s-geek loserdom, trapped in vintage video games, suburban ennui, and shaggy-dog romanticism—you’ll still enjoy the new BZ.
There are a couple of nods to the old style in the fake-out ’60s dance fad parody of “Doodlebug” and the faux geto hop of “Walking Thru A Drive Thru,” but these new tracks are more like, well, songs, although Sharkey’s dedication to his aesthetic means he can’t fully commit to the melodies of the countryish “Poppin’ Acorns,” the acoustic punk of “Bubble Letters,” or the dime-store electronica of “Twan An.” Then again, you probably couldn’t respect anyone who’d fully commit to a line like “Look at Ed Asner / bubbling with laughter / I don’t wanna be an elf, I wanna be a dungeonmaster.” Ballzack may spend a lot of time doing the sonic equivalent of wandering around and mumbling to himself on Chipmunk Dream Machine, but there’s still enough of a songwriter’s sensibility—and, even more importantly, a real personality—to suggest that he’s not just jerking us off. Annoying? If you have to ask, then yeah, probably. A breath of fresh air for two largely stale musical scenes? Definitely.