Album Review :: Deeper Than Rap By Rick Ross

Despite a tumultuous year, Rick Ross’ Deeper Than Rap is still one of the most anticipated albums of 2009. I think we can just go ahead and put a 2011 release date on Dr. Dre’s Detox, although he’s made promises to release it this year. While beef with 50 is prevalent throughout the project, Ross continues to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with, not only in Southern rap, but in hip-hop in general.

“Mafia Music” is the big opener, although it has been on the Internet for over a month as fuel to the Ross-50 fire. Nevertheless, when I heard it for the first time, I almost kicked over the coffee table. Ross spits straight fire for the entirety of the song, no hooks and no featured artists. “Creflo prayed/Mike Vick paid/ Bobby Brown strayed/ Whitney lost weight/ Kimbo Slice on the pad when I write…” Indeed. However, one of the flaws of the album could be the inclusion of so much instigation, with “In Cold Blood”, “Mafia Music”, and “Valley of Death” hanging 50 Cent, G-Unit, and even Trick Daddy out to dry. Save the beef for the mixtapes and let us know why you’re better by giving your fans a consistent product.

On “Murda Mami”, a collaboration with Foxy Brown, Brown compares the two to a ‘hood version of the Obamas, while the chorus touts the pair as the ’09 Bonnie & Clyde. The silly comparisons and a faux-reggae performance by Fox make this collabo a little hard to swallow. Where was all the patois when Ill Na Na came out? On the other hand, Ross’ collabo with Trina, “Face”, puts Ross exactly where he needs to be. This track reminds me of “Money Make Me Come”, a winner off of the last album. Trina is just go-hard enough to ride with Ross on this one and the track bounces like a 6-4 Impala from beginning to end.

“Gunplay” is the pre-requisite posse track, or rather one where he lets one member of the crew eat. Thankfully, Ross leaves out the rest of Carol City Cartel and only includes Gunplay (yes, this is his name) on this track, though the lyrically-proven homie Brisco would have probably been a better choice. Gunplay’s verse and hook contribution were actually pretty good. “Usual Suspects” features Nas and Ross holds his own, but of course Nas takes over on verse two. The problem here is the lazy chorus provided by some kind of Akon wannabe. A waste of a Nas feature, in my opinion, but I didn’t hate it.

“Maybach Music II” was supposed to be a follow-up to the Jay-Z collabo on the Trilla album, but is in a whole different lane altogether in my opinion. The energy is completely different. While the first version crawled along elegantly, similar to the track’s namesake, this one has more of an extravagant feel, with what sounds like a full symphony behind the featured artists. Ross spits a particularly strong verse, but Kanye and Wayne in my opinion used throwaway verses. The first version’s inclusion of Jay-Z made it a more mature track, but this one blends with a lot of the other tracks on Deeper Than Rap, when it could have been its own animal altogether. “Valley of Death”, though riddled with shots at Trick Daddy and 50, is overall a great song, reminiscent of a vintage Jay-Z track. He even addresses the corrections officer debacle: “Only live once and I got two kids/ And for me to feed them I’ll get two gigs/ I’ll shovel sh*t, I’ll C.O./ So we can bow our head and pray over the meat loaf…” Chuuuch.

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Dr. Dre’s Detox: Masterpiece in the Making?

 

Dr-Dre

Since he started production on the album in 2004, hip-hop heads have played a cat-and-mouse game with Dr. Dre awaiting the release of Detox, his third (and supposedly final) studio album. Here’s a brief time-line.

Initial Release Date: Fall 2005

Power 106 Interview on 2/18/07: Dre said he had completed 18 “potential tracks” and announced that the introductory track would be titled “Intervention”

September 2007: Dre shows up on-stage at the VMAs and slips in an announcement that Detox will be released soon. He then went on record in the same month with Billboard magazine saying that it will be his final album and would be released in 2008.

May 2008: Tony Yayo and Lloyd Banks go on record with Defsounds, saying that 50 Cent had recorded about 3 songs, but that they were unsure as to whether either of them would make appearances.

June 2008: Both Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre announce that the album is completed

Most recently, Dre told MTV that Detox will be released before 50 Cent and Eminem’s upcoming projects, which are slated for this year. There has been a lot of speculation about which artists have collaborated with Dre on the Detox project. Among them are Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Eminem, Lloyd Banks, The Game, Mary J. Blige, Marsha Ambrosius, Jay-Z, Warren G, Li’l Wayne, T.I., Devin the Dude, Nas, Ice Cube, and Fergie. He is also said to have collaborated with J.R. Rotem, Hi-Tek, Mike Elizondo, and Scott Storch, among others.

Hopefully, the recently released banger “Topless” is an indication of things to come. Nas and T.I. absolutely murder their respective verses on the track while Dre provides the chorus. From start to finish, this is a seamless work of art. The piano is classic Dre, with traces of his trademark G-Funk style coming through prevalently, despite the two featured guests being from Atlanta and New York, respectively. Dre is one of few producers with the ability to completely own a track, regardless of whether he raps on it or not.

What worries me, however, is that Dr. Dre is not the same artist as he was in 1992 when The Chronic was dropped. Granted, he did release 2001 in 1999 to critical acclaim. But ten years later, at 44 years old, can he really live up to the hype and release a classic in today’s market that will not only match, but surpass the level of excellence achieved with The Chronic and 2001?

The bulk of the criticism from the 2001 album was with regard to the lesser-known contributors Dre chose to work with, many of whom can’t even be referenced on Wikipedia. Though Dre has a great ear and the finished product was a masterpiece, one must admit that there were a lot of nobodies on that album, many of whom are currently nowhere on hip-hop’s radar. Hittman appeared on a total of ten tracks on 2001, but his debut on Dre’s Aftermath label was shelved and he’s pretty much disappeared since. Dr. Dre has made some new friends since ’99.

His increased involvement with 50 Cent and Eminem will undoubtedly influence Detox’s overall sound, but this could be a curse or blessing. The Chronic is an album that is well loved for its distinctive Cali flavor, accurately capturing the tone of LA in the early 1990s. 2001 included Eminem as the first non-West Coast contributor on a Dre album, but Em’s style meshed well with the feel of each record he was featured on. Though 50 has worked with Dr. Dre frequently, I wonder if his contribution, which I am sure will affect multiple songs, will detract from what could be a much-needed victory for the relatively dormant West Coast.

There have been rumors that Aftermath’s prodigal son The Game will contribute to the album, despite the well-publicized distance Dre has put between them due to beef with 50. This would be a good move if it actually happens. A Dr. Dre-Game collaboration at this point would without question be an event. Though Ice Cube, Snoop, and DJ Quik are all but confirmed as guest artists, but Dre is in a position to breathe new life into a lot of West Coast MCs’ careers, like Ras Kass, Xzibit (who appears three times on 2001) and the Dogg Pound. As a West Coast legend, it would be a serious disappointment if Detox didn’t serve to not only re-confirm Dre himself artistically, but to re-establish the West Coast as an entity in the hip-hop community at a time when New York MCs are failing to represent and southern MCs basically have a monopoly on the game.

My other concern is that Dr. Dre’s well-documented perfectionism is stunting his ability to actually complete the album. Hip-hop is easily the most dynamic form of music. With each track that’s released, a new slang term, dance, or hot ticket item is introduced that almost instantly dates the song. If Dre started work on Detox in 2004, it is very possible that there will not be any songs actually produced in 2004 or 2005 on the finished product simply due to relevance. Dre might finish a track, but by the time he finishes five more, the first one may be completely dated. In October 2008, DJ Quik told Loud.com that he had heard 60 out of 400 potential songs Dre had developed at that time for the album. Luckily, Dre is an artist who does not think anything of reaching out to those who can assist him in his craft like Quik, co-producer Scott Storch, and even the legendary Burt Bachrach, who Quik says has been instructing Dre on the piano.

Despite all of the doubt, like most hip-hop and music fans in general, I can’t wait for Detox, no matter what direction Dre chooses to go in. This actually may be the first CD I have physically purchased in the store for quite a while (I feel bad enough about downloading the tracks that have leaked so far…not that bad though). At the end of the day, regardless of the hype and tremendous expectations surrounding the album, Dre needs room (and apparently lots and lots of time) to grow as an artist and we should expect considerable growth and expansion on this project. If you can’t get with it, there is alwaysl the Chronic, 2001, Doggystyle, etc. to revisit if you’re still looking for the traditional bitches-and-blunts Dre of the nineties.

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Believe the Hype: Asher Roth – Asleep in the Bread Aisle

While some might be tempted to write Roth off as a novelty act or cult favorite, Roth puts in the necessary work to prove otherwise. If you were lucky enough to get a copy of The Greenhouse Effect, Roth’s debut mixtape project, complete with an assist from DJ Drama and Don Cannon, you know what I’m talking about. Roth demolishes instrumentals for “Black Mags” by the Cool Kids, and “Cannon” by DJ Drama among others, putting his own creative spin on each.

The second single off of the actual album “Asleep In The Bread Aisle” is “Lark On My Go-Kart”, which comes off like a psychedelic stream of consciousness with Mario Kart and Saved by the Bell references over production that sounds like a hip-hop video game. Though Roth’s nasal voice and slightly over-pronounced delivery has drawn him some obvious comparisons to Eminem, but this comparison doesn’t do Roth justice. There are vocal similarities, but Roth’s college-boy sensibilities and alternative influences set him apart in his own lane. I would even put him closer to Kanye West or Kid Cudi musically.

The first single off of the album was “I Love College”, a frat-house ode to beer, pizza, marijuana, and higher education. In the same vein, “Blunt Cruisin'”, Roth’s tribute to the suburban pasttime of driving with weed, delviers a feel-good vibe that isn’t usually found in hip-hop today (think Pharcyde, Beasti Boys or De La Soul).”Lion’s Roar”, which features Busta Rhymes over what sounds like a Moby track, was in the words of Randy Jackson “just a’ight for me, dog”. Though Roth’s flow is effortlessly and the frenetic energy level is consisten throughout, the lackluster Busta verse leaves a lot to be desired and the hokey chorus keeps it from being a track I will want to play too often. “Perfectionist” is an awkward collaboration with Beanie Sigel and Rock City, where after Ash’s verse, the song seems to become a whole different song. The chorus kills the potential of the track, with Rock City’s lazy hook unfortunately sounding like everything else on the radio.

It’s clear Asher Roth is at his best when left to his own devices, which says a lot nowadays when every artist features at least one other artist on every other track. He specifically shines on his more introspective tracks like the political tirade”Sour Patch Kids”, the motivational “La Di Da”, and the soulful, family-friendly “His Dream”. Overall, this is a rock-solid debut with a lot of range from an artist who refuses to fit the mold of what is expected of a hip-hop artist, and with good reason. On “Asleep in the Bread Aisle”, Asher Roth gives a voice to hip-hop heads who happen to be from the ‘burbs and still doesn’t alienate the backpackers and anyone else who appreciates authenticity.

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