At long last, we have a proper mixtape from Chet Haze. Get Hazed is not a comprehensive classic, not even requiring a listen for anyone outside the Northwestern community, and falling just barely short of the required party soundtrack mark, though it’s hard to imagine it won’t get a ton of spins at fraternity pregames and The Keg of Evanston for the rest of the year. It’s the sound of a privileged white kid trying out hip-hop, and failing with potential.
Let’s get the particulars out of the way as quickly as possible. Chet Haze is Chet Hanks, son of actor and producer Tom Hanks, and he’s a sophomore theatre major in Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. He’s been featured on Gawker, ridiculed by Howard Stern, and shamelessly propped up by The Daily Northwestern in a hilarious puff piece. That’s the person and persona of Chet Haze, but the music reveals something altogether different: a beginning rapper anxious to step out of his father’s spotlight, and struggling.
In an interview with Mayfest on Valentine’s Day, Chet essentially dismissed the idea of listing influences on his work, deflecting comparisons to the first hip-hop he discovered, including 2Pac and The Beastie Boys. It would be very simple to assign influences based on race, such as Eminem, Vanilla Ice, Asher Roth and the legendary trio from Brooklyn, but that categorically would not be fair. What’s fair is to say that Chet’s mixtape is unoriginal in almost every sense of the word, and his statement that he “couldn’t really compare it to any other artist” is laughably false.
The tape begins with “Easy Ryder,” and takes only 43 seconds to reference another rapper, in this case Lil Wayne. The beat is decent, and Chet’s rapping isn’t exactly impressive. It’s confident, that’s for sure, but he touches on thematic elements as original and diverse as drugs, drinking, women, and money. Again and again over the course of the eight tracks (which includes previously released “West Side LA” and “2010 Freestyle”) he delves into this braggart persona, constantly referencing alcohol and smoking weed. “Roll Up” displays Chet’s affinity for girls who aren’t put off by his penchant for smoking. The chorus is easily the best part of the song, a quality shared by a great many tracks on Get Hazed. “Adios Motherfucker” is a typical kiss-off song, “West Side LA” proudly boasts about California and the LA area, while “You Ain’t the One” attempts to placate a rejected suitor.
As previously noted, there is nothing original in these themes, and the songs are full of bragging and college humor, something that is not only commonplace, but a proud tenant of entertaining rap. The problem is that these tropes are overused and often problematic, and by rehashing the same formula of girls plus booze plus drugs equals fun, Chet locks everything in a loop of half-baked songs just waiting to get boring.
The beats are interesting, if overproduced, and the hooks hit well and are both memorable and danceable, but Chet’s rapping seems to follow the theory that the faster the flow and the more words per minute, the better the song, which just isn’t true (“TCB” is a great example of that). But anyone who denies that the record has an oddly fascinating quality about it just hasn’t listened closely enough. “Chivalry” is an attempt to woo a woman while bemoaning the loss of gentlemanly qualities, but Chet’s clunky lines, including one about how women wouldn’t like to be referred to as “receptacles,” trips up any real flow.
“2010 Freestyle” might be the best song collected here, with certainly the best production value and beat, but again, several ill-conceived lines kill any kind of hot streak in the lyrics. Get Hazed displays nothing if not the growing pains of a first time rapper; at any point where it seems like Chet has earned some kind of praise, he comes back with a line about Rodney King or how he’s “flipping the game like a spatula” and everything is ruined.
What remains to be seen is just how serious Chet will be about this foray into hip-hop. It’s possible to dismiss this venture as a publicity stunt or potential performance art on the scale of Joaquin Phoenix in I’m Not Here. The scrutiny on Phoenix was so intense that eventually he and Casey Affleck buckled and admitted the hoax, but an album isn’t a documentary, it’s not purporting to be true, and instead of Phoenix, Chet actually has a mixtape recorded in a studio to legitimize his debut in hip-hop.
If he is actually serious about entering music, this tape represents what normally wouldn’t be seen by anyone. He has the money and studio resources to put out anything and everything he records at the beginning of his career, with no regard for developing any amount of talent he may have, and only the most negative critics will deny there is something there. In the end, Get Hazed is sophomoric, which is oddly appropriate, but with an ample array of resources at his disposal, some good old-fashioned hard work and an actual viable topic to rap about might yield something worth listening to.
Final Grade: C
Download Get Hazed for free here.