Sleeping Bag Studios Review

John Keenan – Mind Of A Madman II – Album Review

I tell ya…four or five years go by and they start wondering if the man remembers them at all, ya feel me?

I’ll admit to being in my forties and now preserving a bit more hard-drive space in this brain of mine, but I ain’t goin’ so far as to purge anyone out there that’s made memorable music in the past or present – and John Keenan is still included in those names I keep handy for quick reference to this very day.  He made an impression, and for myself personally, that’s a lifelong thing – hell, I’m more impressed that he’d remember someone like me as opposed to the other way around, you know?  I’m just some A-hole on the internet that spouts a bunch of shit, pretending like I know something about anything…so to have a guy with the talent of Keenan keep ME in his rolodex is actually quite an honor, I assure ya.  Our history traces all the way back to nearly when I first started writing reviews for sleepingbagstudios – it was 2013 when I reviewed his record Imagination To The Nation, and it’d be about five years after that when I’d review some singles from his record called Late Bloomer.  Oddly enough, you gotta dig pretty hard on the internet to even FIND Imagination To The Nation…but Late Bloomer is out there, along with other records he’s done before & since…dude’s been in the game for about a decade or so at this point.

I can promise ya…I’m not making any of this stuff up – Imagination To The Nation was a thing, and it happened.  If it didn’t, and I’m just lying to ya, then what exactly am I holding in this photo right here?

I told ya John-o…I don’t forget.  You’re in the archives homie – forever.

Anyhow.  He’s got a new album, which is clearly a plus…he’s also “All Into Crypto,” which is probably a minus.  “Instantly it fell” as he sings in the hook…so there ya go…even when you’re interested in that stuff (I’m not, can you tell?) there’s still plenty of risk I guess.  It’s interesting…for reasons on display and reasons that occur behind the scenes too…I was informed that John’s come a long way from where he started…and perhaps in some ways, that’s gonna prove to be true.  To me, listening to “All Into Crypto” basically took me right back – this is essentially the exact same dude I heard back in the day, making music right in the here & now.  Considering the fact that I liked him back then, it’s really not a bad thing – but to say a track like “All Into Crypto” would be a part of what’s gonna prove he’s moved leaps and bounds since the last time I listened would be a bit of a stretch y’all.  What I like is that a lot of what I remember & what I love about Keenan’s music is still completely intact…the humor is still there, the man still sounds great whether he’s rhyming or singing in his hybrid style…the hooks are still sharp for sure, and come atcha from the concept on up.  If you’re listening closely, it’s the spoken-word added into this track that’ll tell ya he’s not as “All Into Crypto” as the title might imply…this is dry humor yo, and it’s always been a classic staple of John’s music and a true weapon he can rely on within his arsenal.

A track like “First Entry” probably reveals a bit more growth to an extent…it’s got a bit more of an updated sound to it that should prove to be more relevant in that regard.  The reality is, John’s got a signature style & vibe whether he wants to admit it or not.  I can get that perhaps someone who ain’t been listening closely might not hear it as much and would be more apt to tell the man he’s MOVING MOUNTAINS with how far he’s come from way back when.  The facts are what they are – he was great then, he’s still great now.  Sorry yo…it’s what I got, take it or leave it.  Dude’s got precision, bars, and clever moves in the production with layers of background sound echoing what he’s rappin’ about – in addition to equally noticeable moves in how he can stop on a dime, shift, and pivot when he’s dropping rhymes.  He’s still a qualified wordsmith, and still just as effective in short cuts like “First Entry” as he’s ever been.  There ain’t a whole lot of reasons to change what isn’t broken…but sure, he’s refined a little.

At the risk of having the guy hate me, I gotta play it straight with him – I’m not really hearing too much that wouldn’t have been able to fit right onto Imagination To The Nation back in the day when it comes to the content or execution.  Having Samantha Dalton show up on “Games That You Play” does diversify the sound a bit…but John’s still flexin’ in the same way that he used to.  We could argue back and forth about whether or not he’s doing it more tightly than he was way back when – he probably IS for what it’s worth…chances are, what used to take him ten tries in the booth take him two now, and that’s great.  Sound-wise…not a whole lot different, that’s all I’m saying.  Again, as a fan, that’s a good thing – growth can be overrated at times…like I said, if ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it too much…you don’t wanna leave behind what was working and what gained ya a fan-base to begin with, you feel me?  Production-wise, I can hear a bit more dynamics and capabilities on the display there I suppose…but when it comes to Keenan…I dunno man…sometimes a signature style can betray ya in all the right ways, and it can be the last thing that the person that actually HAS it, would notice.  From the outside listening-in though, it sounds like the journey of John Keenan is continuing on from where it left off – and that’s really all good.  “Games That You Play” would make for a solid single…people dig on collaborations, and this one works.

When it comes right down to it, John’s got a style & vibe that pretty much puts every track in contention for becoming a single though…he’s naturally gifted in that department, and knows how to deliver the hooks.  From there, it’s really all about how much he wants to choose to dirty somethin’ up with the lyrical content…which he will quite often.  “I’ll Say It Again” goes into nut-size at one point…you get it…it’s that kind of thing.  Like I always tell ya, we’ve all gotta write about something.  Keenan’s always harnessed the power of the platform with ease…he’s free to be himself, say whatever he wants to say, and he’s never shied away from that, which I dig.  He’s got strong hooks on “I’ll Say It Again” at the roots of the chorus, and he’s equally impressive as he raps out the verses…all-in-all, it’s another track that’s fairly guaranteed to get the people listening & turning up Mind Of A Madman II…but they all will really.

“Old School Mix” is where I’m at for sure…this track’s loaded up with nostalgic imagery and energy from the 90s era, and Keenan knocks the vibe of this cut straight on outta the park for as laidback as it truly is.  Name droppin’ from Master P to Boyz II Men, givin’ it the perfect sample to add in as the main hook…all-in-all, “Old School Mix” actually felt like it was about a whole decade too short…I’d have taken a whole lot more than just the two-minutes we get here.  From Starter jackets to Jordans, John’s thought all the details through brilliantly, and come at this cut with genuine sincerity – you can feel the love for the 90s here, and it’s perfect.  Clearly you’re gonna have to have a bit of background context to get the most out of this particular track (sorry youngins) but if you’re in your forties like I am or on your way, you’ll have a lot of love for “Old School Mix” without a doubt.  They say ‘write about what ya know’ – and this is a stellar example of why you wanna go about doin’ that…this feels natural & really well-suited to Keenan.

That 90s thread might be a bit more tangible within the theme of a song like “Old School Mix,” but it’s genuinely a part of the sound of almost everything John creates.  You fully expect the guy to launch into a “girrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrl, these nights have been so cold without you…” etc. etc. at any time – you know what I’m talkin’ about if ya been there.  “Pain We Know” explores that type of sound successfully – like I was tellin’ ya, write about what ya know…and sound like what you’re comfortable with listening to and you’ve been influenced by along the way – it ain’t a bad strategy, I promise ya.  Look and listen to John’s example here, he’s generating results.  You always run that risk of, if you go too far with it, you become a parody…something like what you’d expect from the Lonely Island crew…but if you play it right, it’s a natural fit that has a tributary aspect to it you’ll respect, and that’s where Keenan’s bread and butter is.  “Pain We Know” is a solid cut…the clarity and production on the music is stunning, the backing vocals and hooks are on-point, the whole vibe has depth to it from the sound to the sentiment…I think the people out there listening will really dig what they find on this jam, and find it highly relatable as well.

We all do certain things really well, and other things we try don’t quite live up to what we do best – we’re all familiar with those scenarios, because we live’em.  Sometimes it can go deeper than that – like, for example, having a track like “Pain We Know” give you a glimpse of the more down-to-earth persona of John, which makes the transition into the more amped-up personality-driven “Rap Cat” actually a bit tougher to absorb.  Don’t get me wrong – “Rap Cat” jams…there’s a ton about this track that’s straight-up sick to listen to, and Keenan flexes a ridiculous amount of skill from the writing to the execution of it all…but coming right after “Pain We Know” might give this track a bit less of an advantage than he might assume.  So you see, it’s tough when you’ve got a whole bunch of different aspects to the personality you have and the things that you’re capable of…too much of one and your album gets too serious, too much of the other and it’s not serious enough…and finding the balance if you ARE gonna do both, is basically impossible.  Especially to an asshole critic like myself that wants everything his way at all times.  Best advice I’ve got for you listeners out there is to not take it all too seriously like I tend to – “Rap Cat” is a rad-ass track…I suppose what I’m really saying is that it might not get the credit it deserves where it currently sits in the lineup of this record.  Normally, I’m way more partial to a track like “Pain We Know” – and ultimately, I think I still am – but the way that Keenan skewers thug-culture and those that think they’re really hard & want to step to the mic with a “ring and a chain” thinking they’re all-that…I mean, we’ve all seen it…and we all recognize what’s smoke and what’s real – John clarifies it all here perfectly.  There’s more to “Rap Cat” than just crackin’ wise – John’s truly making genuinely valid observations too.

I might admit to a track like “Scarecrows” being one of the few I’d feel like John probably couldn’t have written back in the day when I first started listening to him…at least for the most part.  Enlisting the verbal assistance of X-Raided to pass the mic to, these two bring their authentic A-game to this track, and without question, come out with one of the freshest cuts of the bunch.  “Scarecrows” is insightful, yes – but it’s more than that…it’s ambitious on a performance-level too.  Like…listen to the way it begins for example…there’s really not a whole lot more than Keenan’s voice to provide the structure when it comes to what we hear, and he has no problem at all carrying the weight.  “Scarecrows” is actually a really rad track on a minimalist level…there IS music and it does play a more significant role as the hooks hit ya, but really, it’s still not super-involved – which leaves the real hooks to the personality of these emcees to make the difference and pull us in.  They’ve got no problem with that, lemme tell ya – both John and X-Raided sound at their best on this track…”Scarecrows” is innovative, creative, and compelling – I’m of the mind that it’s definitely one of the most significant cuts on Mind Of A Madman II, no doubt.  I like the musings on the heart & the mind, I love that both rappers have their own thing goin’ on, the hooks are bulletproof, and the execution is entirely flawless – so I ask ya, what’s not to love here y’all?  Musically, it might be minimalist by design, but everything you’ll hear is produced for maximum effect.


Sleeping Bag Studios


It’s probably fair to say that the material really starts to surge forward around track five on-forward, resulting in a mid-section to Mind Of A Madman II that hits the mark on every level for different reasons.  Like I was tellin’ ya, “Rap Cat” is the cut that actually sticks out the most, but not why you’d think it would…it’s the anomaly between tracks five & nine, which ultimately reveal more of Keenan’s serious side than the dude with the jokes.  I think I’d probably go as far as to say that, after having a good spin through this record several times, the real single in this lineup of single-worthy potential you’ll hear, is found right there in track nine – “Still In Love With You.”  Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything at all about this track that’s not geared to get your attention…and within half a spin, by the time you reach the chorus hooks, it’s already game over and you just don’t know it yet – you’re already hopelessly addicted to this cut, I assure ya.  By the time you reach the end of it, you’ll be reaching for the repeat button…and from there, you might very well just be inclined to hit it up a couple more times – John has put together a completely stellar cut on “Still In Love With You” where the verses are great, but the chorus brings everything to that next-level we really want to reach on this side of the speakers.  I’ve heard many impressive cuts from this guy throughout the years, and clearly you can tell I’m a fan of the man…but I gotta say…I think the John might very well exceeded every possible expectation and wildest hope I could have had for his music with this track – “Still In Love With You” is audible perfection, 100%.

Yeah…I mean…don’t get me wrong, I instantly laughed out loud the minute I heard the way “The Way I Lie” started up, as it’s intended to accomplish…it makes an impact, and that’s positive.  Do I want that on the same record as “Still In Love With You,” or coming right after “Still In Love With You though?  I honestly do not know.  I mean, I think I know…but I don’t know.  The reality is, “The Way I Lie” is almost too much fun to pass up now that I know it exists…but it is really hard to say whether or not it belongs on the same record as the more serious content, you feel me?  It’s a whole lot of fun when it comes right down to it, but John keeps setting us up to take things more seriously right before he’ll drop one of his funnier tracks afterwards…and it creates a bit of a push/pull energy that I can’t be sure is necessarily going to work for everyone listening.  Track by track on an individual basis, Keenan’s got a whole lot to work with and each cut has the potential to reach an audience for sure…it’s having them all together that makes me question things…there is part of me that thinks he might be better off choosing one direction or the other and sticking with that.  It’s really tough to say…”The Way I Lie” sets up a great debate to be had, that’s for sure – the back & forth between John and Samantha Dalton making her reappearance on the record is a real highlight in its own way too.  I feel like it’s a bit polarizing in the right way, you know what I mean?  We’ll all talk about what we experience on a record like this, and there’s merit in that type of approach…it might not make for the most cohesive listen in a way, but at the same time, it’s memorable for the way it flexes its humor & shifts between its more serious tracks.  Brad and Linda sound God-awful though bro…stay strong Mr. Keenan…and stay the heck away from’em.

I think I was the most perplexed by “Try And Find Love” though, if I’m being truthful with ya.  This is…like…you know…normal?  I’m not necessarily saying that’s a totally bad thing – the execution is spot-on and professional…Samantha makes another appearance and sounds spectacular in the hooks…but yeah…I suppose the material itself is just like…you know…a little more regular than we tend to expect from John?  It doesn’t quite have the specialness or sincerity we love in the serious stuff, it’s not laced with enough jokes to be on the humor-side of his catalog either…it’s just like…you know…right there in the middle of the road, waiting to be run over by a critic like me for not committing enough to either side of this scenario.  So yeah…I’m just gonna call it like I hear it – there’s nothing really wrong on any kind of technical level when it comes to what you’ll hear on “Try And Find Love” – but I’m not really hearing that defining reason to return to it by choice either.  “Try And Find Love” is that cut you’d never turn off, because there’s no reason to…but I’m struggling to find that main reason to turn it up as well.  Samantha’s the best part about this one without a doubt…but ultimately, I’m not convinced she’s gonna be enough…the material is paler in comparison to how vibrant the rest of this record surrounding it is.

You had me at the title of “Turd Ferguson” though…one of SNL’s best & most beloved characters – RIP Norm.  You can hear what I mean though…listen to the personality in either “The Way I Lie” or “Turd Ferguson” and you’ll know exactly why it’s extremely tough to get into “Try And Find Love” in between.  I ain’t here to say that “Turd Ferguson” is gonna win John any awards…it’s a LOT thin when it comes to the concept & built really on loving the name “Turd Ferguson,” which again, I think it genuinely justified.  I’m not opposed to what I’m hearing…but I’m not gonna be the guy that’s gonna come atcha tellin’ ya that “Turd Ferguson” comes anywhere near the quality of a song like “Still In Love With You,” or even a “Rap Cat” at the end of the day…it sits somewhere in the middle.  No doubt that John’s worked in some killer lines and bars into this track – he always has something worth listening to that basically puts us all in the position of having to agree each track should still be on the record more or less…and I like the real uniqueness you hear in the hook of “Turd Ferguson” too.  He was “a bright kid” and now he’s a clever-ass man…I have no doubt he’ll make ya laugh when you’re listening to this track, likely in several spots.  Does that make it one of the record’s best?  I’m undecided – but it’s still well worth your time to listen.

The final cut, “Up In My Bed,” probably has me feeling a little similar to how I felt about “Try And Find Love” a couple tracks earlier.  No doubt that this last song has more spark to it in that regard, but it’s still very much another track that has less identity to it than you usually find in Keenan’s music…like I feel like “Up In My Bed” could have been written by a whole bunch of people, though when it comes to what we hear, it’s still John without a doubt.  Do I like it?  Yes!  But that’s not my point…there’s real value in identity, and that’s always played a significant role in his writing just as much as his sound…having a couple of tracks that seem a lot more…normal-ish…is a bit of a concern.  In moments like “Up In My Bed” and “Try And Find Love,” I’m not certain he’s exactly taking a leap forward so much as he could be potentially taking a step backwards to a degree.  Make no mistake…whether he’s goin’ serious, or flexin’ his funny bone – it’s John Keenan’s personality that leads him to his biggest victories for sure.  I’m not sayin’ it’s any small achievement to create a flawless cut that sounds great, which is essentially what “Up In My Bed” truly IS…but yeah…it feels like it’s missing a little of that legendary mischief or insight he’s so capable of creating at the core of it all somehow.  No joke though y’all – Mind Of A Madman II generates a real consistency in terms of quality in the performances and the production of the music you’ll hear – which is really all you can ever hope or ask for.  Material-wise, there might be more flexibility to be found there, and more opinions on what ya do or don’t like the best from John – but like I always tell ya on these pages of ours, polarizing can be a great thing – it gets us talkin’ about what we hear.  The last thing ya want is indifference…and Keenan doesn’t have to worry about that with the lineup he’s created for this record overall.  It’s great to hear him thriving & still doin’ his thang…I’m still gonna be the guy to tell ya this is the same John Keenan we all know without question, but it’s the same John Keenan we all love too.  The guy’s damn good at what he does…personally, I’m glad he’s still got his personality leading the way, a tremendous amount of identity within the majority of the material, and a whole pile of addictive hooks no one could ignore.

Find out more about John Keenan at the official links below!

Main site: