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NON-SATIRICAL ALBUM REVIEW    
John Cena's "You Can't See Me"   

May 11, 2005

by Matt Hocking    
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

Ah, the John Cena rap album, the latest attempt by a wrestling superstar to cross over out of wrestling and find some kind of mainstream audience.  The album is actually a collaboration between Cena and “Tha Trademark.”  I can only imagine that Trademark is related to Cena in some way, or that he has pictures of Cena with a goat, because the guy manages to be annoying in almost 

EVERY song, and while Cena is leagues better, he only does about one verse on every track, so we’re stuck listening to trademark or a guest (usually Bloody Knuckles) instead of the guy who, ostensibly, you bought the CD to hear.  But how successful is Cena at making a go at a rap album?  Here’s a review:

1.  The Time Is Now

This is the song Cena is currently using as entrance music, so you will pretty much know whether or not you’ll like it.  As songs go, it’s not awful or anything.  But it was obviously written and mixed to be entrance music, and not a CD track.  As such, it comes off sounding like it belongs more on WWE:  The Music, rather than on a serious CD.  But, I kind of like it.  Not as much as “Word Life,” but more than most WWE entrance music.

The Vocals:  Cena carries the most vocal load on this track compared to any other song on the CD, and does a fairly good job.  He’s got a good sense of the beat and his vocals are nice and even, and he avoids the tendency to run words together, which makes him easy to understand, thankfully.  Tha Trademark does a verse and sounds fine, but Cena sounds much better on this particular track.

Production:  Sounds like an entrance theme, like it was made for TV, and not an album track.  The mix and the beats are fairly good, they don’t overwhelm the vocals, the track itself is just under 3 minutes, and comes just about as it is packaged on Smackdown.  I understand the necessity to put this track on the album (and first), but it’s not the best song on the CD by a long shot, and it’s by far the shortest.

***½ (Of 5)

2.  Don’t Fuck with Us

Comments:  Pretty much a train wreck.  Each piece by itself, it probably wouldn’t be horrible, but all together, it’s a horrible mishmash of weak production and weak vocals, and when neither one can cover for the other, you’re left with what is, pretty much, the worst track on the album. 

Vocals:  Cena sounds obsessed with the fact that he could say the word “fuck.”  He pronounces it with such relish that you’d think he’d just discovered the word.  A lot of the novelty of this track is probably lost on the “Non-Explicit” version, because you miss the pure joy in Cena’s voice as he says “You don’t want to fffffucK with us.”  Cena pretty much only covers the chorus, leaving Tha Trademark to handle the bulk of the verse in the track, and he spends it attempting to speed through bursts of lyrics, and ends up mumbling at a vocal range well beneath the sirens blaring in the background.  Anything he said, is pretty much lost to the background noise.  By the way?  “More Drama than the Lakers Roster?” and referencing Fernando Valenzuela?  Come on, dude.

Production:  The background of the entire song is a sample of some kind of Sci-Fi siren, like you might hear at a rave.  It drowns out a majority of the vocals, pretty much destroying any value the track might have had.  It doesn’t have a beat, it doesn’t have a flow, it just blares in the background.  Awful choice.

*

3.  Flow Easy

This is the first track featuring Bloody Knuckles, who I gather, has some kind of following on the rap scene, which I’m woefully behind on.  It certainly seems to add to the quality of the track, if not the quality of the writing.  Everybody takes turns doing vocals, while Cena drops in with Bloody Knuckles for the chorus.

Vocals:  Bloody Knuckles is probably the easiest of the three to listen to.  He’s obviously the most polished, and he can keep a good even flow better than Cena or Trademark.  Cena holds his own, however, and on this track, he is sharp for his one verse, though he seems to strain the lyrics a bit to try to keep pace with the song, so he ends up creating some really off, nonsensical rhymes, just to maintain the beat.  Trademark is pretty bad sandwiched between the two, going for the route of not being entirely convincing as a hardcore rapper himself, so instead creating controversy by dropping in lines about abortion clinics and pedophiles (and that’s just in five seconds).  Kind of a lame cop out, especially in a song titled “Flow Easy”.  He gains bonus points, however, for dropping in a line about Divas.

Production:  Not horrible, kind of an old school generic electronic rap beat.  It never threatens to overwhelm anybody, but Cena’s vocals on the chorus are about 50% louder than the rest of the verse, which is a little distracting from a sound mixing standpoint.

***½

4.  Right Now

John Cena’s attempt at a “Soft Rap,” Cena suggests that we all stop fighting, have a drink, go for a drive with our homies, and call our parents and tell them we love them.  Trademark suggest we toast the dead, our homies, and children, and have sex with our girls.  The boys then launch into a list of people they love and respect.  I don’t have a girl, homies, or children, but I’ve got to say, if I did, they’d probably abandon me for listening to this CD.

Vocals:  Off the charts in pretty much every direction possible.  Cena’s “Look at how laid back I am, y’all” rapping style is silly, and Trademark seems, again, just to be trying to catch up.  If this were played for comic sincerity, it would be awesome, but it’s not.  Don’t you have to have had a few songs and albums before you launch into a mellow career retrospective?

Production:  A choral arrangement whines “Right now!” in the background while a track that I SWEAR Jimmy Hart wrote plays on.  Then again, I this is the first song on the CD that I could see getting radio airplay, because it’s deliciously inoffensive.  There’s nothing “horrible” about it, it’s just not very good.

**

5.  Make It Loud

A weird mix of a pseudo “live” song with a party song with a kind of lame dance track.  I will say this for it, the lyrical breaks are probably the least noticeable in this track (even Trademark hits all his spots), and John Cena is MUCH more comfortable saying “shit”.. I guess it’s just not as fun to say.  Though he also gets through “motherfucker” and “Cinemax porn” without sounding like it’s the best thing he’s ever said, so maybe he’s just over the freedom from the censors?

Vocals:  A fairly smooth performance by both Cena and Trademark, though they both need to lay off making pop-culture references that add nothing to the track.  Cena, himself, comes out looking strong, and it’s probably his most polished performance on the CD.  Trademark, for the first time in five tracks, actually doesn’t get lost in the flow of the track.

Production:  Just kills it.  They mix in crowd noise from what I’m guessing was a live performance of some point, but they do it completely arbitrarily.  It makes sense to have it at the beginning when Cena says “Make it Loud!” and at the end when the crowd is chanting “Cena Cena,” but at a few points, the crowd just pops for no reason (as if they were just trying to pep up the song) and they chant along with the word “Loud” in the chorus, but only on the first occurrence of the word.  Weird.  The beat itself?  It was there.  Not too bad, really, the vocals were nice and sharp over it (but under the crowd).  They should have really just tried to stick with making this the “Party Song” for the album, and left off the “OMG JOHN CENA ACTUALLY PERFORMS LIVE~!” element.

***

6.  Just Another Day

John Cena and Trademark whine about the trappings of fame.  Every rapper has this song, and immediately follow it up with a song about Cash, Money, Hoes.  Yeah, you’re really down and out there Cena.

Vocals:  They try to tell an interesting story, at least.  Cena complains that being famous is hard work because fans and travel is so demanding, while Trademark responds by remarking that being poor is hard too, because nobody gives a crap what happens to you.  Cena sounds like he’s a complete asshole, and Trademark sounds like he complains about everything that happens in every day life.  Again, don’t you have to have had a few albums before you can get all introspective?

Production:  The song features a beat that’s REALLY far in the background, obviously to set up the dueling perspectives on fame (while Cena pains himself over what kind of car to buy while he has no friends).  Unfortunately, this only serves to showcase how pedestrian the rapping in this portion is.  Not that I could do any better, mind, but they were so strong in the last song with BAD production, that when the production is umpteen times better in this song, it’s disappointing that they’re so far off the mark.

**

7.  Summer Flings

A “summer ridin’” tune.  It’s certainly head and shoulders above most of the other songs on this album.  Trademark is awful, but it’s more to do with the fact that Cena is SO much better (even dropping a Flair ref) and his lyrics are so stupid that he can hardly get through them fast enough.  It’s actually too bad, because I was thinking that this is probably their tightest and most marketable song, until at about the halfway point, it stops being a kind of good rap song about picking up girls, and starts being a dick measuring contest between Trademark and Cena about how hard they’re gonna fuck their respective girls, at which point I knew they pretty much ruined the novelty of the song.

Vocals:  Cena is tight and hits the beat well.  He’s got a great voice for this type of slowish beat-heavy stuff when he really goes all out on it.  Trademark spends the entire track tripping over himself trying to get all his clever lyrics in before the song ends.  Whoever the girl was (she’s not credited anywhere) has very sharp background vocals.

Production:  Good “riding tune” beat, doesn’t overwhelm the track, but it adds to the effect.  The vocals are mixed well, here it makes sense to have the background overwhelm the track (again they jump well above the performers) because her voice is so very different, that it needs to be put above Cena and Trademark’s to get noticed.

***

8.  Keep Frontin’

The welcome return of Bloody Knuckles to the CD.  It’s a pretty generic rap song, but it’s not bad or anything.  It’s certainly not going to change your life, but it’s not too bad.  It’s worth it at least to hear Cena claim to want to have a foursome with his three dicks (possibly with a 16 year old girl?  I’m not sure what he was trying to say there, I’m guessing it’s a reference to something I don’t understand.).

Vocals:  Cena is at the top of his sex lyrics prime here, and Bloody Knuckles’ voice is a welcome break from hearing Cena and Trademark trying to figure out what their rap voice is.  Trademark really struggles (surprise!) to keep up with the two better rappers, and ends up trying to push himself harder than he should.  Honestly, at this point, I’m kind of wishing this was a solo CD with Trademark and Bloody Knuckles dropping in on a few tracks.  There’s a weird section at the end where one of the guys (I think it’s Trademark) drops some stoner wisdom on us that’s just stupid and out of place.

Production:  They do a nice job with some different beats and vocal samples.  The production is actually surprisingly sharp, and I wonder how much of that has to do with having an experienced rapper as part of the process.  The only time when the production interferes with the voice is when Cena tries to talk OVER the voice sample, and gets lost in it instead.

***½

9.  We Didn’t Want You to Know

Best bass line so far.  In terms of pure “Top 40” rap, this is probably the strongest song.  It’s got a great bass line, the lyrics are suitably “We’re SO much harder than you” (except for a line about Bagger Vance, of all things), and both guys are actually on top of things.

Vocals:  Cena is solid, especially doing the chorus works, his voice is ultra smooth until about 3:30 in, when he tries to do his own vocal effects, and comes off cheesy.  Trademark probably makes his strongest solo-vocal showing, as he seems looser than he does in just about any other track.  These guys seriously need to drop the dumb pop-culture references.

Production:  I like the beat, the bass is at it’s thumpinest.  It actually reminded me a little bit of generic radio rap, which is a good thing in this case.  It was produced to sound like an Eminem song, or something of that ilk, and they did a good job, but for Cena trying to do sound effects at the end.  This is probably the most marketable song on the album.

****

10.  Bad, Bad Man

The first “single” off the album, you’ve seen it on Smackdown and RAW now, and it’s pretty much untouched here (including “van peeling out sound effects).  All three guys are really quite good here.  Cena doesn’t do a whole lot of actual rapping, which is unfortunate, but Trademark actually sounds, dare I say it?  Sharp here.  Bloody Knuckles sounds like Mr. T rapping (the reason for the video. probably), but is still the most polished of the three.

Vocals:  From the three of them, collectively, this is the best effort.  Bloody Knuckles takes the bulk of the rapping load, and turns in a very good, very even performance.  Rather than trying to compete with Knuckles and Cena, Trademark actually relaxes and just does his verses, which makes him sound about a thousand times better.  Cena’s only in at the beginning, but again shows a lot of potential.

Production:  Kills the song again, but not to the point of unlistenability.  The beat isn’t particularly overwhelming or anything, but the biggest problem lies in the fact that sound effects from the video were superimposed over the track (tires squealing, explosions, guns cocking), which is really unnecessary, and doesn’t really fit the song without the visuals (except the explosion, because Knuckles says “boom” when it happens).

****

Running Game

Another “ridin’ tune,” this time with a Gene Oakerlund reference.  Cena’s voice actually seems to fit these songs really well.  When he tries to be smooth and match the beat, he turns in a very strong performance, which helps the song immensely.  It’s not a single or anything, but it’s not too bad.

Song:  Cena’s voice is even, and I think he’s found his genre.  Trademark’s harsh, uneven performance works in this song better than in any other song, because he comes in to interrupt Cena’s smoother flow, which changes the whole pacing, which is exactly what he’s supposed to do.  He’s not any less coarse or any better, but he works better in this track than in most others.  Another not about the lyrics though, if Cena ever does another album, he can put in as many bitches and hoes jokes as he wants, but they’ve seriously got to come up with some lyrics that don’t sound like they were transcribed in a high school locker room.

Production:  Mellow and in the background, which is a good compliment to the song.  They could probably have helped Trademark a little bit, by mixing up the middle of the song a bit to match his speed a little better.  But as for a song to listen to when riding with theoretical homies, it’s not too bad.

***½

12.  BeanTown

John Cena, Trademark and Esoteric give a verbal blowjob to the city of Boston and its sports teams.  I could certainly see this being used in video packages for the Red Sox or Patriots, but pretty much nothing else.  I guess if you don’t live in Boston, this song is pretty useless to you.

Vocals:  This song is going to sound really stupid in a few years when nobody referenced in the songs is with the team anymore, but whatever.  The guys seem to genuinely want to show love for their local sports teams, and hey.  Good for them.  Esoteric by the way, speed raps a gazillion times better than Trademark, and even though I can hardly understand a word he says, I can at least tell that he’s actually getting them all in there with good pronunciation.

Production:  Not horrible, not great.  The beat sounds like something somebody composed in about 20 seconds.  Like Cena went to them and was like:

Cena:  Yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, YO!  YO!
Producer:  Hey….
Cena:  YO!
Producer:  What’s up?
Cena:  I need a beat, man.  We’re gonna do a hot track about Boston Sports!  Tearin’ up the charts with the CHAIN GANG!
Producer:  A sports song?  All right.  Whatever.  I’ll come up with something at lunch.
Cena:  CHAIN GANG!

**½

13.  This Is How We Roll

Cena says “bidness.”  Of his “ridin’ tunes” this is the most generic.  Generic vocals, generic beat.  It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not exactly inspired.  It’s the kind of song that gets cut from a major artist’s CD, but then gets released after their death as “hot new content.”  Not bad, but it probably doesn’t need to be here.  Better than some of the other songs, I guess.

Vocals:  I swear, what the hell is it with Kobe Bryant?  Cena or Trademark name-drop him in about every other song.  Was the CD written during his trial?  That’d probably explain it.  Cena and Trademark aren’t bad, but they get kind of lost in the beat.  Christian should have turned in a guest appearance.

Production:  The beat is actually not too bad, it’s got a good bass thread going through it, but at times it completely overpowers the vocals, not to the point where you can’t hear them, but to the point that the beat is much more interesting than the vocals, so you lose focus.  That’s the problem with the overproduction of these types of tracks, but then again, Britney Spears became a Dancehall Sensation through that very method.

**

14. What Now

I wonder if the girl featured on this track is the same as the one earlier.  If so, she’s not nearly as good here, but it’s still a nice change of pace.  Not a terrible song, but it never gets to a point where I said, “Ok, I’m really digging that.”  Cena sounds off, and Trademark is…Trademark.

Vocals:  Cena never quite gets into a groove, I think because this was meant to be Trademark’s song, but Cena just had to toss in a verse to keep himself out there.  Trademark’s talk of being a lyrical philosopher is ricockulous.  Not that I don’t think he’s not a smart guy, because I have no idea, but his attempts at flow is all over the place and he never says anything smart ever.  Except how smart he is.

Production:  Completely forgettable.  Kind of a nice little bass beat with some snaps and a girl singing a few lines with the track and “ooing” in the background.  The bass actually takes over the song a bit more than it should, but it makes it a nice song for people with thousand dollar subwoofers, I guess.

**

15.  Know the Rep

This is another Bumpy Knuckles song, though you’d never know it from the CD cover (he’s not mentioned on this song).  Not his best song, as he tries to come out and be “hardcore” and everybody ends up mumbling all track long, tripping over themselves talking about how hardcore it is.  More than anything else, this song probably sounded like a better idea in the studio (“Go be hard guys”), but ended up just being cramped and trying too hard.

Vocals:  Uneven and at times really bad.  Cena suffers the most, because he loses all the cool he showed in earlier tracks, and stumbles out of the gate.  I have no doubt he’s probably a lot better at hardcore rapping than this, but trying to squeeze himself in after a off performance from Knuckles (who sounds more like he’s trying to read really fast instead of rapping) and Trademark being Trademark at the end of the song. 

Production:  It’s really chaotic, which fits the song, but not really in a good way.  The beat is slightly off kilter, never quite finding a decent flow, the faux trumpet, the voice sample and the twinkling sound effect at the start all don’t quite fit together or the song, and it all just ends up seeming thrown together.

**

16.  Chain Gang is the Clique

Cena’s “wrestling” song.  He throws in a few “Basic Thuganomics” in there, and basically tries to make an anthem for his fan base to unite them.  It’s actually a novel concept, and it works to a point.  Cena’s section of the song references wrestling just enough that the wrestling fans will get behind it, but not so much that they can’t think it’s a “cool song” on its own.  ‘Cept that Trademark carries the song, and he’s not really in on the idea.

Vocals:  Cena tries to put himself over during his vocals, with a pretty good vocal performance (certainly not his best, but still), and he’s got the benefit of having a wrestling career which gives him the advantage of already having catchphrases (“Chain Gang” and “Basic Thuganomics” namely) which he can put over without sounding stupid.  Trademark, however, blows past the “Basic Thugnomics”/Cena/Wrestling connection and talks about his troubled past, which kind of defeats the purpose of the song.  It doesn’t help that his flow doesn’t really…flow.  Again.  Man, do I have something against this guy or something?  Huh.

Production:  I’m very sick of the Baaaanah-buuuuurnah sample that they chose for the song, but it actually works with Cena’s verses.  Still,  I wish they would have picked something more exciting, and the drum machine didn’t help.  Cena’s scratchy voiceovers were Ok, but didn’t really add anything special.

**½

17.  If It All Ended Tomorrow

A “Death Story” song.  Carpe Diem, ya’lls.  Not the strongest ending song for a CD that I’ve ever heard (I would have closed on a stronger track like “Bad, Bad Man”), but it’s probably apropos that the “Live for the Moment!” song closes out the CD.  Not terrible or anything like that, it just doesn’t leave you with any strong impressions.

Vocals:  Mediocre for both.  Trademark isn’t as bad as he is on some other tracks, but he’s not as good as he is on some of the better tracks.  Cena sounds tired, his voice is gravelly and it lacks the kind of force it should have if he’s going to be talking about a guy about to shoot him.  He’d lost a lot of the edge he had earlier on the CD.

Production:  I kind of like the slow drawling beat, and it fits well with the story the song is trying to portray.  This is one of those cases, I think, where the producer was there with the right audio, but the rappers, for whatever reason, just couldn’t bring it.  As a result, the song ends up being bogged down, and sounds a LOT more mellow than it should.

**½

So in other words, it’s a perfectly serviceable rap album, not entirely unlike one that you’d find from any other first album rapper.  The fact that Cena has a marginal celebrity to cash in on, means that he might get a little more buzz than most of those guys, and people will probably be pleasantly surprised that it‘s decent, though the album itself certainly doesn’t mesh well with the younger audience he’s currently targeting on Smackdown.  The CD isn’t going to turn any heads, it’s not brilliant or even really good, but it’s good enough that Cena doesn’t lose anything for it.  If he does release another album, he should probably do more on it, and limit Trademark’s involvement to a guest role.

Overall:  ***
 
E-MAIL MATT
   
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