PROPER PLACEMENT by Ryan Augustus & Jay Humble
As an album title, Proper Placement seems pretty straightforward. Like, setting everything to rights.
But for a hip hop album from Ryan Augustus (aka Ghost), invested as he is in the Golden Age of hip hop, it’s fair to wonder if the whole thing is a “Check the Rhime” reference: “Proper. What you say Hammer? Proper / Rap is not pop, If you call it that, then stop.”
A good “proper” placement if there ever was one from Q-Tip, after MC Hammer started schilling for Pepsi.
Really, putting people in their place is what Augustus is best at, having won more Ruckus Cup MC battle comps than anyone in town, and taking part in a fair bit of ruckus following this past year’s event, where he was stripped of his crown due to a scrap outside the Big Easy.
The event’s actual details might be a point of some contention (it was late...), but Augustus does his best to get his story out with his new album’s closing track, “It’s Over.”
As you might expect, it’s angry, but for Augustus that’s fairly rare. Most of the time, his tone is laid-back and narrative—not happy-go-lucky, but fairly easy-going. Here, he gets off a good line or two in mocking antagonist Cam Groves (“your happy-family cover is fake-titious”) and Ruckus host Ill by Instinct (“prior to deliberation by Judge Judy”), but it’s hard to say he really offers any low blows.
When he declares “it’s over,” it’s not entirely clear whether he means the argument and he’s past it, or the relationship. One hopes it’s not the latter. All along, I’ve hoped it was performance art, actually. Maybe the Groves-Ghost beef will become that if it isn’t already.
At the very least, the whole event may have slowed Augustus down enough to take stock. After a flurry of releases, this is his first piece since 2012 and it’s definitely a more weighty affair.
It’s not like he’s gotten economical, though. There are still 15 tracks here, many of them actually a full song, plus a lengthy transition. But there’s more organization and cohesiveness than on his debut solo effort, Beats & Rhymes. Augustus’ has done well in curating his material here into an album format, something that’s as much of a throwback as his production.
That’s right: The backing from producer Jay Humble is definitely more contemporary than what Augustus has used in the past, but it’s still got a ’90s groove (that’s a good thing: throwback, but not a carbon copy). There’s a live feel, with active cuts that start in “Peep the Recipe” and continue throughout, plus the beats feel MPC-created, so they’re “played” in a way that’s different from purely digital construction, even if they’re then cut-up and looped.
Humble and Augustus make no mystery of what they’re trying to do. “Recipe” is quite literally their recipe for success, with instructions on “how to rock a mic properly” and how to learn liberally from the likes of Rakim, Run DMC, and Chuck D: “The histories and formulas can help you a lot.”
THE RUCKUS BEING BROUGHT Ryan Augustus, a/k/a Ghost, surrounds the mic at Rap Night
Which raises an interesting question, though. Should you actually be guided by what’s come before? Don’t the truly needle-moving artists forge their own sound? Maybe, but you don’t have to be needle-moving to be entertaining, and Augustus and Humble deliver some entertaining stuff.