Unc Imo has some fame in the rap game, at least to an extent: This retired postal worker and Vietnam vet made it to WorldStarHipHop by presenting himself as Black America’s answer to Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino.” His single “Bad Knee” tries to sell him as the world’s oldest hip-hop star at 60 years old, and it’s a great gimmick, but unfortunately a gimmick’s all it is. Instagram’s favorite weed-smoking, grumpy old gangster uncle doesn’t bring much to his 15 minutes; this debut (built around the single) proves to be little more than merch for people who enjoy his videos.
Cannily modeling his style after Snoop Dogg—Unc is from New Orleans but moved out to the West Coast at one point after the double whammy of Katrina and the BP oil spill—he doesn’t get anywhere near the same effect. He’s laid-back but that’s about it. It’s not that he’s not spitting fire on this debut, he’s just not spitting much of anything, really: The tracks usually set him up, give him a few lines, and then hand the mic off to guest stars, most of whom people outside of New Orleans won’t have heard of. Worse still, it doesn’t even really fit the bill as party music; you have to be able to bump a track like “Go Nuts Saints Anthem” in order to get across, but the mix is so compressed that it just sounds noisier, not more immediate, as you crank it up.
The one track with a lot of Imo on it, “The Prayer,” is an old spoken word rumination, attempted ghetto poetry like James Brown used to do on singles like “King Heroin,” and compelling in its own way (“I lost ten years on hehrawn just dealing with the nightmares”). The rest of the time, Unc’s appeal just doesn’t translate that well with his limited old-school couplets—not even in a world where Lil Jon can get into the Top 5 with just a dozen words. He’s gonna need better production, hooks and videos, or maybe his own cartoon. Or maybe we could wait just a few years; hip-hop’s founding fathers are reaching retirement age too.