Album Review: ‘Watch the Stove’

The Fresh Ingredients Behind the Hamburger Helper Mixtape

Kamran Yunus/The Bottom LIne

Morey Spellman
Layout Editor

These beats sizzle amid the spicy atmosphere of the kitchen table. Although food is an intricate part of the ambiance, this isn’t your typical red beet, table beet, golden beet or garden beet. These are the beats of Hamburger Helper-inspired musical oddity Watch the Stove, a five-track mix tape produced and recorded in an appreciation of music, food and art. Sponsored by General Mills Incorporated, this Minneapolis-based production features a revolving door of up-and-coming local talent.

A staple food source among college-aged millennials, the Hamburger Helper brand sought an effectively creative way to reach both its target audience and expand consumer outreach. Strategically released on April 1, Watch the Stove was the light-hearted answer to their prayers.

Despite its quirky foundations, the music is pungent, diverse and resonates with an authenticity that has become indicative of the album’s immediate viral success since its release. The title track alone has garnered over two million hits on SoundCloud. The album’s count continues to rise. The question, then, is why?

Right out of the oven, the mix tape turns up the heat on its first track “Feed the Streets.” The song slowly builds before swift attacks, smooth bass lines and tasty lyrics crescendo to its salty climax. Produced by Bobby raps and DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip with the vocal musings of DEQUEXATRON X000, the track is not only catchy but clever. The lyrics, “I mix it, I mix it, I whip it, I whip it so good you would think I’m a natural” subtly compare the use of Hamburger Helper to water-whipped cocaine.

The title track turns the heat down a knob but remains none the less delicious. If “Feed the Streets” was the aggressive sauté, “Hamburger Helper” lets the ingredients simmer. Slow beats, reverb, dissonant harmonies and a slight eastern influence help encapsulate a haunted portrait of a broke college student’s need for cheap beefy chicken, mac and cheese and other assorted meals.

The album’s regrettably short closer “In Love with the Glove layers micro beats underneath the soulful croon of singer Daniel Davis’s lyrics. One almost feels an emotional connection to the song’s hook, an odd concept given the fact that the track is about cheap food. The idea highlights another aspect of the album’s creation: a need to simply produce good content.

Liana Miller, the creative voice for Hamburger Helper, emphasized during a recent interview with Adweek that the team wanted to make an album that they “would listen to, not some marketing ploy.”

Although not the world’s most revolutionary record, Watch the Stove is a fresh bite amid the over seasoned hip-hop, electronic and rap productions that have become prevalent on college campuses and across FM radio in 2016. These made-for-quick-consumption tracks are cooked ready-to-serve directly into the ears of the general public.

Perhaps that’s why “Watch the Stove” seems so genuine, and why it shows. The album separates itself from the mainstream styling of G-Eazy, O.T. Genasis, Rihanna and Justin Bieber. It lacks expectations. No one associates a Hamburger Helper release with the type of hype that surrounds new Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar or Aesop Rock albums.

In a decade where music has become cookie-cutter manufactured, this is something of a treasure. That isn’t to say that fresh hip-hop and rap don’t exist today. Artists like Miles Bonney, DJ Premier, Afu-Ra, Action Bronson, Beat Junkies, Freddie Gibbs and Kev Brown continue to spice up the scene with underground zest. You might just have to stir a little more to find it.