Handshakes and Middle Fingers

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Having recently scored his first Top 40 hit 14 years after his debut album, Canadian rapper Luke Boyd, aka Classified, attempts to prove there's more to him than his slightly novelty-ish ode to his homeland with his 14th studio LP, Handshakes and Middle Fingers. Right from the opening "Intro:Ups and Downs," the Nova Scotia native makes it abundantly clear that he has more serious issues on his mind this time round, as he grapples with his insecurities against a backdrop of medieval flutes and violins, while the twisted synth riffs and crunching basslines which soundtrack the blistering dissection of the celebrity lifestyle on "That Ain't Classy," the slightly heavy-handed use of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina news reports on the jazz-hop of "Danger Bay" (which also samples the '80s CBS kids show of the same name), and the eerie, ambient electro and drowsy beats which accompany the tale of battling with the morning after on closer "The Hangover" adds to its rather doom-laden nature. Thankfully, while the rest of the album still maintains their autobiographical nature, Classified does eventually attempt to lighten the mood, as on the twinkling xylophones, languid grooves, and summery acoustics of stoner hip-hop anthem "High Maintenance," the piano-driven soft rock collaboration with Joe Budden, "Unusual," and the vintage soul-sampling "They Don't Know" and "Young Soul," the former of which features a guest vocal from younger brother Mic Boyd). With Classified taking over production duties himself, his experimental tendencies are allowed to roam free, taking in hazy folk-pop ("The Day Doesn't Die"), Middle Eastern-tinged R&B ("Maybe It's Just Me"), and smooth G-Funk ("Stay Cool"), an admirable attempt at genre-hopping but one which lacks the finesse or cohesion to compete with the likes of Kanye West and B.o.B. Classified's second major-label album may occasionally evoke images of a kid in a sweet shop, but that doesn't take away from the inventiveness and refreshingly candid lyrics that permeate a record which is definitely more worthy of a handshake than a middle finger.

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