Rating from Sputnik Music
Mac Lethal is an interesting fellow. He made his name as a battle rapper – winning various local events (and eventually Scribble Jam 2001) and becoming a YouTube phenomenon in the process. He’s also been putting out records and mix tapes on his own Black Clover Records label for the better part of a decade. He’s quite prolific, releasing what amounts to about a new track or two every month since coming out with Men Are From Mars, Pornstars Are From Earth in 2001. Hailing from Kansas City, he wears his Midwestern roots proudly on his
sleeve and has transitioned from a purely battle-based rapper to a punch-line frenzied emcee bent on complex lyrical wordplay and rhyme-schemes. With The Original 11:11 Sessions we find Mac simply beginning his full length debut for Rhymesayers Entertainment and eventually creating something infinitely more profound, containing astounding personal impact.
The first track, “Absolutely Nowhere,” fades in with a melancholy acoustic chord progression and Mac waxing philosophically, “when autumn burns black, so many people find a shell or often turn back, they’re scared as hell they might as well be silent plucking bloody feathers out of angels, I’m cleaning out my shotgun with my cocaine on the coffee table.” This lyrical gravity weighs heavily on the beginning of a Mac Lethal record, as he’s generally known more for his cynical and often humorous observations on society, pop culture and politics/government than anything of the personal nature. However, to truly understand where this record came from it’s important to know the story behind it.
Released in early 2009 but recorded in 2004, it wasn’t meant to be called “the original sessions” because it was supposed to be simply 11:11. The true thought process is left to the imagination of the listener, but it’s easy to make the logical leap that Mac never planned on this being more than a culmination of everything that had made him successful up to that point; and outside of “Absolutely Nowhere” – which was probably placed at the beginning of the album to set the tone, as the rest of the disc carries a chronological feel as if it was recorded in order – the early portion of the record finds Mac at his sarcastic, witty best. While he occasionally (and mostly with his tongue firmly planted in cheek) dabbles in rapper-posturing, he even admits at one point, "I still don't know the difference between word is bond and word is born." Details like these make the transition from external to internal extremely smooth; the listener is given a chance to know Mac on a surface level before finding themselves entranced with the personal elements present in the second half of the album.
Mac continues his signature form through the middle of the record, and even begins evolving into more of a story-teller in the mold of Slug from Atmosphere or Murs, and with possibly greater potential. “Bareknuckle Chris” finds the rapper creating a fictional town full of Silverstein-like characters that he would later expand into a sprawling 10 minute track on a 2009 EP called Town. The next track, “Oak Tree,” shows the real-life story beginning to unfold. The song details his feelings about the mother of his future child, and the album takes an epic turn for the worst from there. The Original 11:11 Sessions was indefinitely shelved after the emcee experienced an array of personal problems, and he had to take a break from recording, touring, promoting – everything. Upon returning from the self-imposed sabbatical he decided this set of songs (as well as their b-sides, which would later suface as The Love Potion Collection 2 and The Love Potion Collection 4) were far too painful to complete the sessions and subsequently perform them on a lengthy tour. So he scrapped the tracks and recorded the album that was released as 11:11 in the fall of 2007. After five years passed (and The Love Potion Collection 4 saw release following the moderate success of 11:11), the emcee saw it fit to release what many in his inner circle considered to be his magnum opus, resulting in The Original 11:11 Sessions.
Without ruining too much of the details for future listeners, “Oak Tree” is the last time Mac seems truly happy on this record; if the tales told over “Baby Powder,” “Halo,” “Tummy” and “Epilogue” don’t elicit some sort of emotional response or connection, chances are you're not listening. However, the album is immensely listenable – sporting beats from Lazerbeak, Ant, Cecil Otter and even Mac Lethal himself – and each line is delivered with so much sincerity and skill that the transition from traditional fun Midwest battle-rhymes and punch lines to a personal saga is seamless. The album is rife with piano samples, keys/synths, guitars, harmonica and some of the catchiest beats ever seen on a Rhymesayers record (which is saying something). “The Sketchbook” is an 11 minute monster of a track that finds Mac detailing the events of a wild, late-night poker game before delving into some extremely thought-provoking social commentary. “Baby Powder” (which features some excellent lines courtesy of fellow KC-native Joe Good) describes Mac’s initial troubles with his baby’s moma, albeit in an often hilarious light.
The Original 11:11 Sessions was originally striving to be the definitive Mac Lethal record, and it may very well be. But more than that, this is the story of David McCleary Sheldon – born lower middle-class in Kansas City, and living the same problems experienced by most every other 20-something out there. He’s at times funny, intelligent, depressed, angry and even pensive or profound. But most of all this record comes off as something real and honest in a genre that can often be anything but.