Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich Malkovich. Unlike “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo,” that’s not a grammatically correct English sentence. It is, rather, a quote from the 1999 Spike Jonze film Being John Malkovich, during a scene in which actor John Malkovich gets sucked into a portal where everyone looks like him and the only word they can say is his last name. In that scene, and throughout the movie in general, that word and its repetitive use becomes more and more alluring, a fun-to-say yet somehow-powerful mantra.
With his new album Great Expectations, L.A. rapper Malkovich aims to give that name new meaning. To get people, and crowds, chanting those three syllables like they’re stuck in a portal that John Cusack discovered.
Although the name Malkovich is essentially synonymous with the actor and the title Great Expectations usually brings to mind a Dickens novel, Malkovich the rapper has crafted an album so distinguishable that its title and his namesake are bound to be remembered by hip-hop fans as a unique entity.
Great Expectations begins with “Storm Chaser,” a bass-led track with rattling pianos and sound clips about Libya and Gaddafi. Malkovich’s lyrical content on the song spans continents, referencing the natural and man-made disasters like 9/11, the Libyan Revolution and Hurricane Katrina. Either physically or metaphorically, Malkovich was there. And he paints a picture of the feelings associated with those events so vividly that it feels like we’ve all been there at some point, too.
As hip-hop rapidly expands internationally and regionalism crumbles with the internet’s gift of global interconnectivity, Malkovich fits into a niche being carved out by a new breed of rappers. Hip-hop depended so heavily on regionalism for so long but rappers like Malkovich know no borders. The MC is from L.A. but he raps about the Middle East as much as he does his hometown. He jumps from issue to issue and country to country with ease on several of his songs.
On “Palms” and “Cali,” however, Los Angeles takes the forefront. On the former, Malkovich references things that’ve long been associated with West Coast hip-hop like Snoop Dogg and Crip gangs as well as Venice Ave. and other locales. Elsewhere on the album, Malkovich calls out those that hate on his hometown with the following line: “L.A., no love lost, people don’t know what you’re worth.”
With these lyrics and references, the MC reminds us that he’s wholeheartedly influenced by the City Of Angels— it raised him and formed his outlook on life. But now he’s gone global. The rapper sums things up nicely with one line on the song: “I’m worldwide, grab your atlases / but when you want to come see me, you know where the palace is.” The song doesn’t shy away from painting vivid picture of the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles either, using lines like, “Lifestyles of the almost homeless / Word to Jesse in the parking lot, sleeping in a Focus.”
The rest of Great Expectations jumps around topics like alcohol addiction and other social issues. “Get Away” reinvents the Cheers theme song with its hypnotizing sample of the part of the song that says “wouldn’t you like to get away?” There’s a little bit of everything on the album, further reflecting Malkovich’s fetish for internationalism. In the hands of a less talented MC, this type of thematic diversity might crumble chaotically. But Malkovich holds it together, weaving seemingly incongruous themes and beats together using his always reliable flow and lyrical skill.
Malkovich’s music reflects the type of music that was output during the alternative hip-hop boom of Rhymesayers and Stones Throw, but updated for a new, online era. Underground rappers like Gotham Green, Omni and Sum all make appearances, and the production arrives courtesy of a wide variety of talented producers. There’s a diverse input of musical talent and lyrical prowess that converges on Great Expectations, combining to create a sound that’s wholeheartedly and recognizably Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich.
On “Lies,” Malkovich says, “Put the world in a word, I’d have to say ‘Patience.’” That line hints towards the rapper’s career. He’s been waiting a while, but it’s time for people to see that he’s finally living up to hip-hop fans’ Great Expectations.