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GQ's Death Threats and Love Notes

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The Big Aristotle wasn't a Greek philosopher but instead a platinum-selling rapper whose real name was Shaquille O'Neal. But in the limited pantheon of the basketball player-turned-emcee, perhaps no one has been more full of philosophic platitudes than former University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill point guard Quentin Thomas, who raps under the alias GQ.

Thomas relies on boisterous rhetoric, which was a major criticism of the Oakland-based Black Panther Party. The party's minister of information, Eldridge Cleaver, is appropriately pictured on the cover of Death Threats and Love Notes, the N.C.-via-Oakland emcee's debut LP on 9th Wonder's Jamla Records. Though Thomas comes from a city still rooted in the Hieroglyphics Crew and hyphy hip-hop, he stuck around Chapel Hill long enough to grab 9th Wonder's attention and repurpose his handling skills from the hardwood to the mic booth. According to Fatin, one of the album's producers, those skills are that of a natural talent—a blend of charisma, wit and rhythm. On the Fatin-produced tingle "Memento," GQ claims that he's "Runnin out of ink, but never out of thoughts." That's a righteous summation of what's both wrong and right with Death Threats, which is more of a gym workout than a gelled program.

Crystalline opener "Repetition" clocks in at almost five minutes long. "I'm up there, I don't think Manute's on my level/ fully equipped, I don't think your coupe's on my level," GQ boasts. "I will poop on your level/ I'm talkin so high/ gotta skydive, nigga, just to stoop to your level." What ensues is an album of GQ banking on hanging metaphors and overextended life lessons: "This rap music is gorgeous, I'm just trynna make it right without tasting the porridge," he offers over an unfulfilling offering from one of Jamla's Soul Council producers, Eric G.

Had 9th Wonder handled production duties on this entire record rather than just throw in three contributions, Death Threats might have rivaled 9th's producer-emcee projects with Murs, Buckshot or David Banner. There's also no way to judge GQ alongside other rappers, as one of the very few guests here, on "I Know," is labelmate Rapsody. GQ's subtleties and attack are too much for her. Thomas is fierce, and he might be North Carolina's most valuable emcee import right now, but he remains largely untested. 9th Wonder has yet to put him side-by-side with any great emcees or beats yet, so we still don't know just how much game GQ has.

Label: Jamla Records

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