Own It or Disown It: #277: Slaughterhouse, Welcome to: Our House

OwnItorDisownIt

The hip-hop supergroup's first major label full-length turns five years old this month, and we've got a lot to say about it.

Talking about the negative influence a powerful producer could have over a promising artist’s work last week got me to thinking about other instances like this. (Yes, this is a sort-of continuation of the Vanessa Carlton piece; it’s been a weird week.) What sprung to mind immediately was Slaughterhouse’s Welcome to: Our House, which should have been a simple enough write-up so long as I didn’t get in my own way, which I did when I wondered to myself if I was properly qualified to talk about its place in the Slaughterhouse oeuvre. Couple that with an insistence on conveying a punchline and, well, I spent the past week listening to everything released under the Slaughterhouse name. This entailed two full-length albums, two mixtapes, and an EP, which isn’t too daunting of a backlog to get through but is still quite a bit to get through for the sake of one write-up. Don’t expect this sort of homework from me on a consistent basis. It’s been a weird week. Also, while I usually have no dog in an argument of how you should treat music embedded in a write-up, I recommend listening to a bit of each song as you read this column. This’ll make a lot more sense when we get to the subject of this column.

What is Slaughterhouse? Slaughterhouse is a quartet of hardcore rappers who were each one bad roll of the die away from breaking through on their own merits: Royce Da 5’9”, Joe Budden, Crooked I, and Joell (pronounced “Jo-Elle”) Ortiz. The former two names may ring some bells—Royce worked on the Grand Theft Auto III soundtrack and worked many times with Eminem (most notably as a duo called Bad Meets Evil), while Joe Budden was primed to break out in 2003 on the strength of a self-titled album that even hip-hop haters thought was alright (compare Rolling Stone’s three-star review of Joe Budden to the two-star review of El-P’s Fantastic Damage). Crooked and Joell put in plenty of work in the scene as well, but ultimately, none of these four were able to break out in the way their peers had. Budden had the four of them work together on a posse cut for an album of his, and they had such a good time working together that they decided to keep at it, adopting the name of that track, “Slaughterhouse”, as their moniker.

Now, a word about their rapping: I’m going to not talk about it a whole bunch, mostly because there’s not much to say. You know how the appeal of a great posse cut can be the differing personalities bouncing off of each other? Yeah, that’s not Slaughterhouse. Budden is a little more contemplative and Ortiz is a little crazier than the rest, but from the self-titled album through the mixtape they put out right before Welcome to: Our House, all four strived to be known as “the guy who goes in on this track”. It’s a lot of dark-humored punchline rap that has all the nutritional value of a Denny’s meal. They maim and kill people, they do a lot of drugs, and they’re unafraid of bragging and joking about it. Given the shallowness of it all combined with the hefty word count of a sole Slaughterhouse track (one alone would rival the length of this column) and much of it starts to bleed together, with only the odd great and terrible lines making it out of the malaise. It’s like listening to a metal album built on guitar solos over composition, for better and for worse, though for what it’s worth, the group as a whole was batting six-hundred through Our House.

Slaughterhouse the full-length album represents growing pains harder than anything else. I think it is the second-worst work of the group to date, and it took listening to the rest of their discography to pinpoint two reasons why I don’t care much for it. First: goodness, these choruses are something awful. Slaughterhouse may be a rap outfit, but they were hesitant to abandon modern song structure, and in 2009, that meant long choruses sung by paid help, which ruins the pace of so many songs and takes time away from hearing these guys rap, which is why you’re listening to Slaughterhouse in the first place. The funniest moment on the record, for me, is the chorus of “Cuckoo”, in which the group declares that they’ve no need for a chorus.

The second problem is with the production of the whole shebang. It’s fine work all around, I suppose, but it ultimately does not do much to compliment the group, who require significant kick and punch in their backing music to make their punchlines land. What’s here is too clean and polished to let Slaughterhouse shine. It’s a big reason why I vastly prefer the Slaughterhouse EP, which ups the percussive elements by a significant degree and the group sounds all the better for it. The EP is more audacious in structure as well, ending with an eight-minute cut that isn’t all that great but is admirable for what it tries. It’s a step in the right direction, but they’d make a huge leap forward with their next release.

I’ll be upfront with it: I regret not standing up for their On the House mixtape when it came time to cast 2012 AOTY votes for Earbuddy. This is the best the group has ever sounded, a perfect soundtrack to moving limbs around in quick fashion, whether you’re dancing or participating in more violent behavior. It is unsophisticated work, to be sure, but this is the rare hip-hop release that gets away with a monstrous runtime and such lyrics as “I even put a 1 to 7 on your spouse / Like she got AIDS sperm on her mouth“. The standout here is “Weight Scale”, in which they go in on Nas’s “Nasty”, and while Nas does a great job on his own track, it sounds downright sparse when compared to how Slaughterhouse murder the beat. It’s a four-on-one fight, but the results speak for themselves. On the House is by no means the best hip-hop album of 2012—the year of R.A.P. Music, Cancer 4 Cure, The Money Store, and good kid, m.A.A.d city—and there’s no way this would have connected with the rest of the Earbuddy collective at the time, but I could have lobbied for it to make our top hundred of the year.

By this point, it seemed as though Slaughterhouse had found their stride. They are tough guys that rap tough over nasty work and sound, at worst, fine doing it, and while that’s not going to connect with everyone, it connects hard with people who are into this sort of music. I recognize that lobbying against growth is not the healthiest option most of the time, but hey, worse artists than Slaughterhouse were making bank with work that was just as brainless and far less satisfying than what these four were doing, so maybe they shouldn’t have signed with Shady Records.

Let’s back up a bit. While the Slaughterhouse LP didn’t set the world on fire, it did make a fan out of Eminem, who likely had an eye on the project before it was released due to Royce’s involvement. The group signed to Shady in 2011, and the Slaughterhouse EP was released as a sort of victory lap on an independent to mark the occasion. On the House was released only a week before Welcome to: Our House, and while it isn’t unusual for hip-hop acts to put out mixtapes to promote an upcoming album, most don’t put it out in such close proximity to the work they expect people to pay money for. The cynics in the hip-hop blogosphere posited that this was a preemptive move to cover critiques of how their first album on a major, executive produced by Marshall “Rihanna sings my choruses these days” Mathers, was made to appeal to a wider, dumber audience, and that they had lost their magic touch.

The first single, “Hammer Dance”, seemed an early indicator that everything was business as usual. The guys get to ride a nasty synth over dank drums; this could’ve been the best track on either Slaughterhouses. It wasn’t difficult to imagine that Eminem had worked to refine Slaughterhouse to be a better version of themselves and that Eminem was willing to use his name to get eyes on four great rappers that deserved a break. Maybe Eminem had learned something from the implosions of D12 and G-Unit, to not mess with a good thing and only bring in producers that would make his guys sound like fried gold. Maybe Welcome to: Our House would finally be the big break these guys were looking for.

Then the second single, “My Life”, dropped.

This would be hysterical if it weren’t so sad. Slaughterhouse stans were quick to defend it, but everyone else who was paying attention was laughing at Slaughterhouse. The rest of Welcome to: Our House plays out as hip-hop’s answer to Metallica’s Load: it might not be the worst album ever made, but you get the feeling the people making it cared more about their wallets than their fans.

Exactly three songs here are on par with anything Slaughterhouse released before or since: the aforementioned “Hammer Dance”, “Coffin”, and “Throw It Away”. The rest splits the difference between hip-pop pap that Slaughterhouse has no business making and hip-hop that does nothing to compliment Slaughterhouse’s collective flow. The two Skylar Grey features are obvious low points, but the real boner here, to me, is “Get Up”, a propulsive little ditty along the lines of “Take On Me” and “Maniac” that might have actually worked if it had been given to a group whose name shouldn’t be put into Google Image search and who’s prone to spit lines like “Like secretly filming a mob, we recording hits / What a fucking lifestyle, maybe that’s why I’m on my dick“. Slaughterhouse murder emcees; here, they take time out to spread goodwill and cheer. On “Coffin”, Crooked I says “The most beautifulest thing in the world / Are the funerals I bring to this world“, which is the wackest line he’s ever said but is made worse with “Goodbye”, a schmaltzy song that sees him weep poetic over his beloved uncle. These are Welcome to: Our House‘s interesting failures. Less interesting are the legion of overproduced hip-hop that Slaughterhouse has no idea how to navigate, struggling to find the rhythm of their own material. So much of this sounds like something Eminem could have sold to the masses.

The album is a train wreck, and what’s worse is that Slaughterhouse’s gamble didn’t pay off in sales figures, either. Granted, it peaked at number two on the Billboard 200, selling 52,000 copies in its first week, but the album’s legs gave out under itself right away, the singles didn’t get much airplay, and while some music outlets were inexplicably generous to this album, most gave it the biggest insult they could by outright ignoring it. Selling it, then, didn’t pay off, and Slaughterhouse’s third full-length album remains in production limbo—it was supposed to come out as early as 2014, and Joe Budden gave word earlier this year that he believes it will never be released.

I can’t hold it against these guys for trying to get their money; they paid their dues, and they wanted a return on their investment. All the same, if there’s a lesson to take away from hip-hop this decade, it is that it is best, from a critical and commercial perspective, to make the most satisfying music you can and let an audience find you. The Slaughterhouse LP wasn’t the best streetwise rap album of 2009; that was Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Part Two. The Slaughterhouse EP wasn’t the best hip-hop EP of 2011; that was Punch Perm by Dream Jefferson. On the House wasn’t the best mixtape of 2012; that was Big K.R.I.T.’s 4Eva N A Day. They had built a more consistent body of work than any of those artists and bands, though, and perhaps they could have cashed in all that goodwill for a far stronger project than this. That we may never know is a small tragedy.

All of that, by the way, is about a group that I still don’t have strong feelings towards. Like I said, it’s been a weird week.

VERDICT: DISOWN

Oh, and I suppose I should say something about their second mixtape, House Rules. To that end: it's alright.

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