Don Cusack in High Fidelity

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The concept of rap albums as movies is in itself nothing new. There are those in which the language of cinema abounds (Sporty Thievz' Street Cinema, Cage's Movies for the Blind). Prince Paul went the extra mile, composing an original narrative strung along by MCs as character actors playing their parts within that plot. Even Cage and Camu Tao took an actual (if obscure) film as inspiration for an entire LP -- 2002's Nighthawks -- but made little effort to craft their verses in service of that film's trajectory. But Cincinnati MC (and one-third of Tanya Morgan) Donwill's first solo outing as Don Cusack in High Fidelity is truly a first in that it takes an existing movie as its starting point and follows that movie's plot faithfully from track to track. Donwill steps into the guise of John Cusack's Rob Gordon character, using each song to reflect on relationships, music, and his most recent lost love. On album-opener "Laura's Song," Don does well to set up the plot: boy meets girl; next comes sex, love, and, eventually, the breakup. And though the lyrics seem to correspond exactly to Rob and Laura's fictional relationship, the hook is a caveat: "See, this about you/There's no names though/The song's titled 'Laura' just to help me play it off." From there, Don dives in to the movie plot headfirst with "Top 5 Breakups," reminiscing on his five most painful heartbreaks -- as Rob does in one of the film's most memorable sequences -- using the same names and personalities of Rob's ex-girlfriends in the movie as well as the same final punch line. Elsewhere, Don's jealousy comes to a boil on "Ian's Song" as he obsesses on his ex-girl's new lover, Ian, cleverly played by Opio of Souls of Mischief, and he indulges in rebound sex (as Rob does with Lisa Bonet's character in the movie) on "Love Junkie."

Still, the musical elitist slant is perhaps the best part of having a hip-hop version of High Fidelity. After all, rap's underground subgenre has always taken this approach if, at times, by default; marginal sales and an insinuated higher dedication to the art resulting in a level of disdain for more commercially viable artists. The spoken intro alone, quoted from the film's script ("Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?"), takes on new meaning when heard in an indie rap context. Similarly, Don and his Tanya Morgan partners Ilya and Von Pea interpreting the snobby record store employees at "Championship Vinyl" (the same name as the store in the movie) is conceptually air-tight. However, as the track list drags on, the High Fidelity framework comes off as limiting and the amount of lyrical content taken straight from the movie seems to greatly eclipse whatever real-life experience Donwill is speaking about. Oddly enough, Don's heartfelt dedication to a deceased loved one on "December 27th," introduced by a teary phone-call interlude in which Laura reports the death of her father, provides one of the album's most memorable moments. Here, Don has used one of the film's subplots as food for thought but, for listeners, it's hard to imagine that Donwill the MC is rhyming about a fictional character's dead father. All things considered, Don Cusack in High Fidelity is a mixed bag. The production is solid (with Brickbeats, A-Plus, Aeon, Wale Oyejide, and Von Pea all contributing quality tracks) but the film's familiar plot lines, which on occasion make for impressive showcases of Donwill's lyrical abilities, fail to succeed on the same as level as Tanya Morgan's wildly inventive Brooklynati. And Don's verbatim recitals of Cusack's soliloquys, rife with earnest overacting, are excruciating. Nonetheless, Donwill's ambitious first solo effort should do well to garner attention from conceptual hip-hop enthusiasts as well as neophyte fans of the movie.

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