Attempting to be willfully quirky is a fast-track to stoney-faced mediocrity. So it is with Ammbush's Ammbaataa, which has the Bay Area-based producer, rapper, and some-time affiliate of Cloud Rap poster kids Main Attrakionz promising a listening experience that's “kinda odd” in the first line to the opening song (“Tabernacle T”). Quickly though, Ammbush's habit of favoring stream-of-consciousness-kicked lyrics descends into buffoonish jibberish — there are references to poop-a-scoopers and pro-wrestlers so he must be a skewed character! — over beats that rarely hit their desired emotive angle. Far from being charmingly off-kilter, Ammbaataa becomes a rigorously ordinary listen.
For his part, Ammbush airs out a rap flow that's consummate (even if at times he sounds unerringly like the Honor Roll Crew's Spank Pops). But it's hard to warm to his vocals when he so forcefully seems to want to muster up an air of wackiness. On “LambdaLambdaLmabda” he declares that you might “see me on your campus with a seaweed sandwich having all the answers,” or that you're likely to catch him flicking “a booga on a gold-digger.” Then he's referencing Phil Collins' “Sussudio” before, like a hammy rapped aside, asking, “What the fuck that mean?” It's as if Ammbush is ransacking through his brain trying to pluck out images and references to prove his oddball status — “Call me crazy!” he hollers on “Grade A,” while elsewhere he warns the listener he may be certified “zany on the mic” — but like the ol' adage goes, prescribing yourself as insane likely only proves your humdrum sanity.
As a rapper Ammbush is more convincing when he ditches the array of ridiculous hats and writes from a more sober perspective. The cautionary “Mama's Bad Boy,” which has him weaving a familial fable, and introspective “Float” hint that he's a rapper capable of crafting songs to hold a listener's attention and tug at a few emotional strings here and there. But these are rare moments on an album where the frustration level is heightened by beats that seem like sparks of ideas that never managed to graduate into fulfilling finished productions. At times they rely on swathes of synths, other moments they teeter towards a boom-bap element, but they rarely mesh with any cohesive glee. “C&C” is a prime clanger: It opens with a slurred sample of Black Sheep's “The Choice Is Yours (Remix)” which is pasted over a hi-hat-powered drum pattern. It comes across like something that should be a 30 second interval, not the basis for an entire song.
This feeling that Ammbush is stretching out sketches in the hope that they're elastic enough to form as songs taints the Ammbaataa experience. It leave an abiding impression of the rapper holed up in his bedroom hurriedly attempting to flip fleeting creative thoughts into some sort of eccentric mission statement. But the album lacks the carefree experimental joy that characterizes the most compelling D.I.Y. rap projects. Instead of being eclectically entertaining, Ammbaataa ends up as a thoroughly rote and middle-of-the-road Internet-era rap release.