Czar*Nok / Max Julien

That One Way

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With a name like Czar*Nok, you're liable to expect this rap duo to be out of the ordinary, and indeed, that'd be an accurate presumption. In many ways, these guys are typical of the innumerable major-label rap acts out there grindin' in the mid-2000s, yet in some other, more subtle ways, they're not. For one, they come from Cincinnati, OH, which puts them in lonely company. For instance, the two major collaborations featured on their debut album, That One Way, are with their nearest neighbors: Three 6 Mafia (from Memphis) and Kanye West (from Chicago) -- quite an unlikely pairing! For two, these guys may be major label, but they're not very commercially savvy. Their group name, Czar*Nok, is the sum of their individual names, HayCzar and Enok, which makes sense, sure, but is confusing (how to write it, how to say it, what it means, etc. -- not exactly simple and to-the-point like, say, "one word, five letters" Diddy). And too, their style is confusing also. For newcomers working largely with minor-league producers, they really have some dynamite beats to work with. But they muddle these unique productions with run-of-the-mill gangsta lyrics. In short, there's a lot of potential here on Czar*Nok's debut. These guys are fairly impressive rappers with really impressive beats, and moreover, they have a unique back-story, coming from Cincinnati with a truly weird name that just screams curiosity. But all of this potential is fumbled with tired gangsta-isms that reach for street credibility while forsaking the shot to be fresh-sounding. It's like blending together the same-old, same-old of Three 6 with the uniqueness of Kanye, thereby aiming to have it both ways -- recognition for credibility and creativity -- but scoring neither as a result of the overreach. Still, it's good to see Midwestern acts like Czar*Nok putting cities like Cincinnati on the major-label rap map, even if these guys in particular fail to exhibit a truly individual style of their own, at least on this go-round.

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