conography in Texas, like everything else there, is mythologized to size. The cowboy, riding around the thick boarders of the state, will always be the father of Texas myth, lively and solemn at the same time. Tapping into this cultural reservoir, the towering Slim Thug harnesses his oil-well deep voice, raps with layers of inflection and makes himself into a strongman – always proud, always righteous, and always human – that would do Sam Houston justice. Like his H-Town peers, he’s been hovering for years on mix-tapes and self-released albums but he’s arrived here (his major label debut) like a young lion, hungry enough to make you forget he’s a rookie in the Connie Hawkins mold – years late to the major stage. Already Platinum is a muscular fusion of Slim’s pride, narrative quietude (or is it experience?), and certainly one of the more exciting events in recent hip-hop memory: The Neptunes ascension into greatness.
The ‘tunes, like Slim, have a unique relationship with symbols and history. Chad (the quiet cerebellum) and Pharrell (the poster child) have none of the vintage hip-hop past that flows over New York and L.A. Instead, the duo dives into their own fractured adolescent record collections, stripping away everything unnecessary from punk, jazz, new wave, Golden Age rap, funk and disco. What remains are their trademarks: the digital funk guitar riff, the punk-y assault of kick drums, the New Order-synths. They, like the sentinel figure of the cowboy in Texas, are forever bound to true independence, as trite as that may appear. They ignored an entire continent of music (unlike Timbaland), entire decades of sound (unlike Kanye) and actually used their talent to move beyond the simple role of ‘rap producer’ (unlike Just Blaze). For Slim and his major-label debut, the Neptunes rebuild their sound from the occasionally false elegance they previously peddled to Snoop and Jigga into a clean, organic template on Already Platinum.
Slim Thug’s voice, an aged, aching bass, is immediately captivating. The sleazy riffs from the Neptunes that always sounded vaguely, suspiciously ‘70s, come into their own behind his vocal gravitas. “This Is My Life” is austere and elegant enough to be a resilient, after-hours burner, but Slim’s voice holds the beat under him, like a demi-god squeezing a flower. The murky, droning bass line rides slow. This tidal repetition and Slim Thug’s calm vivisection of modern Houston street culture lends the song effortless motion:
I had to get rich or either sit bitch Fuck rolling shotgun I had to get my own shit! And they respect me now, I'm the Boss of the town Slim Thug getting love when he floss around And I can be found on the same block That got one of my brothers locked and the other one shot But I ain't pushing no rocks or running from cops I'm just chilling wit my niggaz posted up on a drop
We may presume this to be overly didactic, but it’s what Slim dishes out knowledge about – Pro Tools, questionable A&R guys, rappers who sell out of their home scene – that keeps everything grounded. He’s bitching about work, and people ruining the vibe and cohesiveness of a neighborhood. Malkmus did the same thing. Think of this as Crooked Game, Crooked Game.
Already Platinum also takes the producer / MC symbiosis to a new place: two historical hip-hop outsiders, the southeast and southwest, working together, putting every one of their strengths on the table and daring the house to fold. Even when the Neptunes aren’t engineering a song directly, they’re hungry executive producers; they nail track sequencing, mastering and all the quiet details that have become so essential in modern rap. “The Intro” is a deft move on its own; instead of sputtering out some pointless shout-outs and promises as other album intros do, Slim Thug kicks a maximalist dramatic monologue and knows exactly when to rap and when to just speak.
As a personality, he’s refined and distilled. On the rumbling “Like A Boss,” when he brags about accomplishments he sounds more like the conquering hero than a thuggish young guy puffing his chest out. Maybe it’s the voice; maybe it’s the ease with which he neatly closes his lines. Either way, this focus on craft is a plus in a field of young men unable to forge an couplet as sturdy as “I had to get off my ass / and make that time pass.”
Already Platinum, despite its finished, astral polish, still comes from two strangers. It’s not a New York record, neither underground nor widescreen Queens. It’s truly a different “South” we’re listening to on the record. The cultural mantle of Texas rap looks great on Slim’s shoulders. The subtly geeky Neptunes create lasting, haunting music and a legitimate legacy. After years of singles that people called “infectious” and “club-ready,” they take Slim Thug and his dashing uniqueness and carve diamonds. This album isn’t a musical highlight reel, it’s watching artists shuck off personal curses and step into their own skins.