On the intro to G-Side’s second album of 2011, an authoritative voice explains the long-term benefits of being what John Donne said no man was: “If you’re strong, and you stand firm, and you keep doing what you do, the rest of the world will eventually come to see you — and your island will become a nation.”Which is a promise that you hear a lot these days, not just from rappers, but from all over America, home of 300 million little nations, some with much higher GDPs than others.
Hip-hop hasn’t (yet) been as generous to Alabama natives Stephen “ST 2 Lettaz”Harris and David “Yung Clova”Williams as it was to, say, Biggie, but iSLAND shares with “Mo Money Mo Problems” (and recent efforts by Kanye West) an ambivalence toward the money and success that has been, for at least two decades, mainstream rap’s animating force. For one thing, as everyone knows, the all-American pursuit of money tends to pull you away from people you care about (“I hate relationships / Never put my heart in it,” the G-Side duo lament and/or boast) and towards crueler lovers (“Luv 2 Hustle” notes that the hustle don’t luv u back).
Furthermore, success makes you worry more about failure: “Fifteen minutes of fame / You five in it / If you survive the trials that I been in / You spend the other 10 minutes practicing time-bending.”And perhaps inevitably for such a quick follow-up, iSLAND does fall short of 2011’s other, greater G-Side record — the glazed, cinematic The ONE… COHESIVE, which pulled the neat trick of setting tight, hungry rapping to beats that glistened and drifted like synth-pop soundtracks. That chilly beauty is thinner here (despite highlights like the buzzing, neon synth that abruptly cuts into “Atmosphere” and the purring sax of “Cast Away”), but now it’s accompanied by a truly compelling fear that once the boom is over, the pragmatic self-interest that lifted you to wealth and fame will become a weight around your neck.
Again, this isn’t just G-Side’s problem, or hip-hop’s. But one way to treat it is to do what rappers, like all artists, have been doing forever: to make, even out of narcissism and loneliness, something that other people can hear, understand, and feel. “I ain’t occupy Wall Street / I’m-a occupy y’all street,” ST and Clova declare towards iSLAND‘s end, which means that while these guys may not be revolutionaries, they’re savvy enough to suggest that the cure for the late-capitalist blues is to start building a nation of all our islands.