Classified is a Canadian emcee who can lay claim to ‘veteran-status’ in 2016, with a discography that runs two decades deep. He never quite broke through to receive international exposure on the level of Drake or even Kardinall Offishall, but he remains a respected emcee with a strong catalog of albums. “Greatful” is quite possibly his best record, not just because of the themes that many can empathise with, but because it possesses plenty of variety.
Throughout “Greatful” Classified’s personality comes through strongly, moreso than Ludacris’ on last year’s “Ludaversal”, which similarly attempted to address the awkward mid/late career point every long-term emcee has to face. Where Ludacris often veered between party animal and responsible parent, Classified has grown more naturally, filling out most of “Greatful” with down-to-earth moments that make him sound incredibly normal. Thankfully Classified is a likeable guy, evident on songs such as “Having Kids Is Easy” – which will strike a nerve with men that have young children, highlighting the sharp change in lifestyle that can happen, as well as how it affects listening habits for Hip-Hop fans. I’m sure I’m not the only one that has quickly switched a Ghostface CD over to the radio whilst putting the kids in the car, first thing in the morning.
The DJ Premier-assisted “Filthy” screams nostalgic old man sneering at current Hip-Hop, but is thankfully the only song of its ilk on “Greatful”. It’s as if it was placed first to lure in the older, more traditionalist fans that continue to worship the 90s New York sound (and won’t listen to anything else), and then smack them over the head with a refreshing, easy-going introduction to more light-hearted Hip-Hop that maintains Classified’s authentic persona. That does a slight disservice to “Filthy” however, as while the anti-fake rappers theme is older than the hills, it is another strong installment in Premo’s canon. You just know lines like “I’m not your rapper’s favourite rapper, I’m the fans favourite rapper” are likely to end up scratched in to a future Premier track. For what it is, it’s Classified flexing his muscles and brushing off any mic dust, and it is a good way to start the album.
One of the more compelling tracks, “Hard to Understand”, sees Classified questioning the harshness of life and the backwards mentality of a generation afraid to speak out. It’s nice to hear about an emcee visiting sick fans in hospital, but it’s oddly difficult to digest when there’s so much ignorance in Hip-Hop. Clearly, it’s because this writer was also raised on rappers bragging and cursing, and hearing an emcee talk about the good work they have done (or tried to do) is a strange feeling. How is it that an emcee can appear to be a self-promotional dick for sharing charitable work, yet genuine ignorance is accepted by the masses? A rapper being nice still feels an alien concept in 2016, and that’s a shame. Classified’s statement of “good guys are out of style” on the Saukrates-assisted “Noah’s Arc” is a good analogy, but it’s hard to think of a time when they were in style. This attitude is touched upon on the first verse as fans (one assumes) have labelled Classified a snitch for trying to help a young fan seek justice for the death of his brother which happened in a public space, yet no witnesses came forward. It’s unclear what or where this crime took place (other than it was a shooting on a basketball court), but it’s another hard-hitting moment that shows Classified picking up on the heartless, anonymous nature of Internet comments and social media’s negative side.
Sung hooks are an easy way to split your fanbase, but just as Skyzoo and Lupe Fiasco did last year, you can implement enough singing in to a thumping Hip-Hop record without compromising impact or annoying purists. Of course, this varies from the superb “Heavy Head” to the mildly irritating “Work Away”. The most obvious stab at mainstream appeal is “No Pressure”, a fun collaboration with everybody’s favourite womanizing drug-taker Snoop Dogg. It’s a standout moment, delivered with enough humour and wordplay so as to keep it in rotation, outside of the standard “getting ready to go partying” playlist that it fits so snugly in to.
“Greatful” is very much a record for a certain audience (older male rap fans) that tries its best to be welcoming and approachable to new listeners. Thanks to Classified’s amicable demeanour and relate-able lifestyle, it achieves this, but whether he’ll finally become a household name internationally is another question. Even if he doesn’t, he doesn’t need it (as highlighted on “Heavy Head”). He’s happy being a success in Canada and mentions his attempts to crack the United States throughout the album – but for an emcee who has been here since the 1990s to continue to release strong, yet traditional Hip-Hop with a message, has to be admired. I’m more than grateful that “Greatful” exists, and while it’s not exactly “Great”, the consistency, production and genuineness of the rhymes are all reasons to recommend this record.