Not since I discovered a cat-themed craft beer have my worlds collided so ecstatically as they did late last Friday evening at the release of the Meow The Jewels album.
If you’re not up the on movement yet, here’s the short take: It’s a version of EL-P and Killer Mike’s critically acclaimed hip-hop record Run the Jewels 2 but re-created with skillfully sampled cat purrs and meows. (Someone launched a Kickstarter to force the duo to come good on a pre-order joke that for $40,000 they’d re-do it “with all cat sounds for the music.” Proceeds are going to charity.)
Once this landmark cat-rap album became fully funded, a number of other artists signed on to contribute, including members of Massive Attack and Portishead, one of Beyonce’s producers, and Lil BUB herself. And then last Friday evening it was presented to the world as a free download (although you can order a physical vinyl version with faux fur paws on the cover if you so desire).
Being that Meow the Jewels is a record where, you know, most of the music is made up of sampled cat sounds, I persuaded the powers that be at Catster to let me review it in the only sane way possible — by deciding which breed of cat each song would be. Trust me, there’s irrefutable science behind this.
The opening song is masterminded by EL-P, and it’s pretty much a glorious summation of what cat-rap should be: The music is a heady swirl of various pitched meows, yelps, and guttural cat groans, some of which came from a library of sounds sent over by Lil BUB’s “Dude,” Mike Bridavsky, who himself is in the music business. The song is a Domestic Shorthair adopted from a shelter — basically, the most classic cat there is.
Even if you don’t know the name, you’ll have heard Just Blaze’s music backing up hits songs by Jay Z and Kanye West. He also once saved an abandoned cat from a thunderstorm and let the cat live in what was then his main recording studio. His contribution to Meow the Jewels is as close as you’ll get to a club hit, with a rollicking beat punctuated by enthused meows, so I’m gonna file this one as a hairless Sphynx because these cats look like the sort of fancy feline that would hit the club scene and also have a sort of resemblance to Kanye’s old beau Amber Rose.
A psychedelic-styled workout from the melodramatic singer-songwriter Zola Jesus, this take on “Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1” heads in a dark and eerie direction with a bunch of pained feline cries echoing in the background. It’s a perfect concoction for Halloween so let’s anoint this one as a tricksy black cat.
I’ll be honest: This is avant-garde stuff from Portishead member Geoff Barrow, pushing the envelope for what cat-rap is and could be. The cavernous purrs that bed the track as a baseline are peppered by some particularly perky meows. This is nothing more than a lion in the form of cat-rap.
Taking time out from his role in the electronica trio Cubic Zirconia, Nick Hook’s remix of “All My Life” conjures something of a safari vibe by virtue of its stripped-down percussive ticks and exotic feline wails. Adding on to the last song’s big cat theme, we’re without doubt looking at a leopard here.
In the hands of wildly creative hip-hop producer extraordinaire Prince Paul, “Lie, Cheat, Steal” becomes a hazy and off-kilter feline-helmed experience. I almost wanted to claim that the cascading meows on the chorus are an homage to Biz Markie’s beatboxing cat impression on Roxanne Shante’s “Def Fresh Crew,” but that seemed a little too self-referential. Anyway, this one is clearly a Persian.
EL-P has claimed that Boots — whose music you’ll have heard on Beyonce’s self-titled album from a couple of years ago — set out to create nothing more than “the Sgt. Pepper’s of cat songs.” I’m not entirely sure how you accurately judge such things, but in honor of the musical influence this song’s got to be a dignified British Shorthair.
A soulful and laid-back moment of respite on the album, “Paw Due Respect” charms with its introspective lilt and series of honeyed meows. This is a shoo-in for a Birman, one of the most giving kitties out there.
What is the funkiest breed of cat in the world? That’s the question that Little Shalimar’s flip of “Love Again (Akinyele Back)” brings to mind, with its strutting drum pattern and sassy series of cocksure meows. I’m going with the sleek and athletic Bengal.
The Alchemist is known for crafting menacing and gritty thug rap tracks, but somehow he’s managed to produce the most sweet and angelic song on Meow the Jewels. At times its sing-along meow refrain comes across like the theme song to a beloved kid’s TV show from yesteryear. This one is a cherubic kitten — any breed will do, they’re all adorable!
There’s a glacial undertone to Deltron 3030 producer Dan the Automator’s reimagining of “Angel Duster.” It’s anchored by deep purring sounds, with the slow-rolling song emerging as an exercise in crystalline beauty as it brings to mind the steady march of an iceberg. Yep, we’re talking about a Siberian kitty.
Meow the Jewels’ bonus track is commandeered by 3D of the British trip-hop troupe Massive Attack. There’s a lot going on here, with skillfully crafted layers of sound embellished by some fevered meowing on the chorus of sorts. (3D apparently sampled his own cat for the song.) There’s a tangible dark underbelly to the song, but it’s not all doom and gloom at the end of the day. It might sound controversial, but the vibe I’m getting is tortoiseshell. Meow those jewels, kids!
About Phillip Mlynar: The self-appointed world’s foremost expert on rappers’ cats. When not penning posts on rap music, he can be found building DIY cat towers for his adopted domestic shorthair, Mimosa, and collecting Le Creuset cookware (in red). He has also invented cat sushi, but it’s not quite what you think it is.