Citizen Cope :: 06.23.05 :: Horseshoe Tavern :: Toronto, ON

Citizen Cope by Danny Clinch
Citizen Cope writes sanitized political hip-hop and countrified folk, lathered in splashes of urban twang that boundlessly resonate across urban social circles. His music is just as likely to be heard coming from a dorm room stereo as a beat-up Chevy pick-up with a gun rack in Michigan or Mississippi. The crudely fortified anger that raises political hip-hop from obscurity to influence is buffed away in Citizen Cope, replaced with a sound that is simultaneously angry at the establishment while also supporting its foundations. Despite the fact that he writes about the problems of America's declining middle class, fans can get specific e-cards and personalized screensavers and desktop wallpaper on his website. In the political pyramid, Citizen Cope is more of a curious co-ed than a staunch, political commentator. Image and message aside though, his songs are popular from WB to BET, and his show at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on a balmy Tuesday was met by a large enough contingent to support both networks.

Musically speaking, Clarence Greenwood's successful and enjoyable semi self-titled RCA debut bore similarities to other country-meets-hip-hop dust bins, but his song structure and the symmetrical nature of his melodies do not match up to the clout of either Buck 65 or Ridley Bent. The message, however sanitized, remains. Still, most of the songs sound similar, narrowly focusing Greenwood's talent onto a straight plane of country hip-hop, bathed in puddles of DC funk and folk. Both "Bullet and a Target" and "Son's Gonna Rise," arguably the two most powerful ballads on the record, are virtually the same, while "D'Artagnan's Theme" and "Nite Becomes Day" barely dart off course, following the same thematic structure and melodic sense that guide the rest of the record. Cohesiveness aside, Citizen Cope's eclectic brew lacks yeast, and that became even more apparent at the Horseshoe.

Citizen Cope courtesy of
Throughout the show, Citizen Cope performed all the aforementioned songs. In addition, he stayed true to the album's form, forgoing any opportunity for experimentation in an effort to deliver a live presentation that mimicked The Clarence Greenwood Recordings. Cope consistently and confidently delivered the same laid-back, folky hip-hop, regardless of its inherent noticeable sluggishness, as well as some climactic organ work from ex-Robert Randolph Hammond B-3 player John Ginty. Yet, despite playing the hits and exuberantly entertaining the crowd of nearly 200+, the show fell completely flat, lacking any remotely political message as well as any rhythm enticing enough to get down to.

The similarities of his songs triggered the downfall, as halfway through the show hearing the same song over again became redundant, regardless of what Greenwood was politicizing. In addition, compared with Ginty, Citizen Cope's accompanying musicians weighed down the melodies, rather than aerating them amidst breezy gusts of funk, folk, and country. Solos were neglected in choice circumstances, and improvisational interludes were cut short, despite the band slowly working their way towards a climax. In both "Bullet and a Target" and "Nite Becomes Day," opportunities to let loose were passed up in favor of reserved, empty melodic lines, leaving the Citizen himself to cope, running out of caulking with too many holes to fill. Couple the musical malfunctions with a night of lethargic, sterile political ramblings, and you have an artist whom, despite all his recent successes, has some reworking ahead of him. Still, I truly believe he is onto something, and from the attitude of the rest of the crowd who thoroughly enjoyed their stay at the Horseshoe, it seems I am not the only one who believes so.

Shain Shapiro
JamBase | Toronto
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[Published on: 7/12/05]

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