“Turtleneck & Chain” – The Lonely Island

The Lonely Island blew up in 2009 on the back of the success of their Saturday Night Live Digital Shorts, several of which formed the backbone of their debut album Incredibad. While joke rap – and The Lonely Island itself – weren’t new in 2009, Incredibad was memorable not only for being incredibly funny and having an impressive list of celebrity guest stars, but for being a solid hip-hop album. This is why “joke rap” seems diminutive when applied to The Lonely Island; their music is in itself legitimately good, and not just a medium for their jokes. By that expectation, Turtleneck & Chain delivers.

It’s clear that The Lonely Island are well-studied music fans; you can hear it in the songs, they’ve deconstructed what’s on the air right now and systematically assembled an album that sounds thoroughly modern as a consequence. It’s got all the hip-hop hallmarks getting radio time, from the Kanye-esque sample-driven “We’re Back!” to the pitch-corrected vocals and Southern crunk beats on “Turtleneck & Chain”. It also calls back to older hip-hop albums with its skits, crass interludes ironically titled “Classy Skit #1” and #2, a trope that doesn’t happen anymore. All the best comedians are incredibly intelligent, and even though the humour on the album sometimes drops into childish fratboy juvenility there’s plenty of evidence that The Lonely Island are masters of their craft. It’s an intimidating thought that these guys who were schooled around the traps of the most famous comedy show on Earth are also expert song-makers. How do you even compete with that?
The songs are especially compelling because they’re economical, there’s always a narrative that each verse builds on without wasting time and it sucks you in, the lyrical equivalent of a page-turner, you have to know what happens next. And you never can guess because they twist and turn unexpectedly, like “Jack Sparrow” which starts off a typical club banger about “countin’ stacks” and picking up at the club, but gets quickly derailed by Michael Bolton’s dedication to rhapsodizing about the Pirates of the Caribbean series. This also happens on “After Party”, initially about a night of after-after-after-parties but then has the protagonist having an existential crisis and calling back to the structurally similar “Like A Boss” by referencing fucking a giant fish in a sewer.
In a profile last year Jon Stewart said he saw his team of satirists as “serious people doing an unserious thing,” and the same can be said about The Lonely Island. Their songs, though ostensibly kinda dumb, are a crystal-clear mirror held to the world of mainstream hip-hop at which they poke fun but also celebrate. It’s interesting to see what artists can come up with when their imagination liberates them from convention. Their lyrical irreverence lets them go anywhere they want, reaching into the absurd for the backbone of their comedy, and that unfettered access lets them roll out hits with apparent ease. There are twice as many songs on Turtleneck & Chain than the average pop album, and almost all of them are intriguing, well-constructed, and catchy as hell.
– Jake Cleland