- SPIN Rating:7 of 10
Label: Universal Republic
Get rid of New York hip-hop's well-worn mean-mugging, keep the working-class misogyny and homophobia, then quadruple its quirk quotient — a little five-percenter paranoia, plenty of closed-circuit world-building, some unabashed geek love of comic books and pro wrestling — and you're left with Mr. MFN eXquire. Yes, the man formerly known as Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire inexplicably signed to Universal in March on the strength of the 2011 mixtape Lost in Translation, a decidedly uncommercial effort with song titles such as "Cockmeat Sandwich" and "LoveSponge.” Its best song, "Huzzah," an ode to drunk driving, was a truly inspired celebration of '90s throwback rap that stole a beat from art-damaged weirdo-hero, Necro.
Unlike Lost In Translation's curatorial Def Jux beat-jacking, eXquire's major-label debut EP allows the rapper to create his own dystopic world from scratch. Beats by Harry Fraud, El-P, Spaceghostpurrp, Blue Sky Black Death, and, surprisingly, Dot Da Genius (last spotted on the disastrous Kid Cudi rock record WZRD) create a chillwave-meets-Bomb Squad sound full of Morricone moans, ringing Black Sabbath riffs, and from-a-black-hole bass. Aside from censoring eXquire’s name, Universal kept their grubby people-pleasing paws off Power & Passion. This is just more of the cheap strong stuff that initially made him so compelling.
And what's in that stuff, exactly? Well, start with eXquire's menacing, melodic raps. Often his delivery is compared to Wu Tang's Method Man, and that's appropriate. More specifically though, we're talking the Meth of Tical: a grimy, beyond-dusted charmer with a sing-song flow and ear for melting, murky beats. Then there's his ability to navigate weed- and girls-obsessed one-liners, dead-eyed, street-dude gem-dropping, and nerdy references to, say, Ren & Stimpy, and make it all feel natural. You know those moments when a tough-guy MC will seemingly slip up and compare something to Doctor Who or X-Men's "Dark Phoenix Saga," exposing a crack in the hard-assed armor? Mr. MFN eXquire exudes that kind of comfortable-in-his-own-skin weirdness all the time.
And so "Cheap Whores & Champagne" is a laundry list of things — from his record deal to the very idea of "trust" — that he'd rather just dismiss with a terse "fuck it." On the hook, eXquire explains, "We in our last days / So I'm-a do the damn thing." It's a mission statement — a way of bridging drunk-in-a-bummy-apartment frustration with 2012 doomsday theorizing. His pain gone grandiose.
And if it's all about to fall apart, either because eXquire can't keep it together or some avenging force out of his control is on its way back to earth, why not go hard? So, stick "Muthafuckin'" in the middle of your name. Sign to a major label. Also, call one of your songs "Telephuck" and throw a rubbery-voiced Gucci Mane on there to talk about Hamburger Helper. Who cares? "The Message 1 & 2" abruptly ends the EP with a chant of "Fuck niggas / Because they're fuck niggas."
As is often the case with even insular rap right now, Power & Passion is distracted by a meta-narrative addressing critics and haters, mostly imagined. Given the uncompromising nature of this major-label bow, it's unnecessary. Five songs, one skit, and just 18 minutes total, this is a concentrated dose of Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire's spaced-out, drink-and-fuck-too-much, end-of-days rap. It's also frustratingly brief and low-stakes, though it leaves you immediately anticipating his next move — and also wondering if Universal will even give him one.