Jim Jones - Pray IV Reign

Jim Jones just may be the biggest rapper in the game to never go platinum. After Cam'ron's disappearing act and the surprise success of "We Fly High", Jones proceeded to hop on every remix he could to popularize his shitty, but more commercial-friendly style. Pray IV Reign was originally entitled Back to Back. On to the review, I guess.

Despite being one of the biggest Dipset fan a couple of years ago, I've never listened to a Jim Jones solo album. I love his work on the Diplomatic Immunities and a couple of mixtapes, but he never seemed to posses the charisma to carry an album by himself. He has matured into a stand-alone rapper, whose nasally baritone and trap-inspired delivery allow him to not be an interesting lyricist. His lyrics were more technically sound in the Dipset days. Now he just sticks to an ABC baller-rap style that is bringing about the destruction popular rap. Joining Jones on this journey is Juelz Santana, who is barely a shadow of his former self, and NOE, a Jay-Z sound-alike who’s probably better than Jay-Z at the moment. Ludacris steals the show on “How to Be A Boss”.

A little more than half of the album is dedicated to radio-friendly ballin’ singles with bland instrumentation and cheap euro-synths. Precious, Blow The Bank, This is for my Bitches, so on and so forth. A bunch of boring commercial-based nonsense is what I would call it. I don’t really like Pop Champagne, but I can agree that it would fit in a lot better on Ron Brownz’s album minus Jones and Santana, who add nothing to the song. Medicine is a cheap remake of “Nigga What, Nigga Who”, but a cheap remake of Nigga What, Nigga Who is still a remake of Nigga What, Nigga Who. Pop Off is a mean, gun-popping track that comes comfortably towards the end. “Na Na Nana Na Na” is probably the only legitimately great baller track on the album. Jones sounds like he’s imitating Young Jeezy over semi-live drums and flattened synths. It works.

The album’s bright spots are when Jones addresses darker issues. The No I.D. produced intro is pure soul. A wailing harmonica, loose percussion, and an array of funky guitar plucks are the backdrop for Jones’ vivid account of his youth. Gold Star Pulling Me Back is a eerie, thundering version of Scarface’s “Keep Me Down” or Biggie’s “My Downfall”. Frienemies is a guitar-laden account of Jones’ rocky relationships with Cam’ron and Max B. I can’t wait to hear Cam’s version on Crime Pays. “My My My” and “Rain” have Jones adopting a Pac-ish persona and lamenting his fallen comrade Stack Bundles and the ghetto’s plight.

Thankfully, Jim Jones attempts to make a thorough album. The deeper tracks almost balance out the boring ones, but Jones isn’t compelling enough to drag some of the “fun” tracks out of mediocrity. The biggest thing Jones lost in the Dipset split was formidable running mate. Juelz sucks and while NOE is good, he doesn’t have that “thing” that Cam brought to the table. Oh well

Overall: 3/5

Best Songs: Pulling Me Back, My My My, Na Na Nana Na Na


Slim Thug - Boss of All Bosses

Delays, leaking, The Neptunes, and bad luck basically ruined Slim Thug's major label debut, Already Platinum. So he ditched Geffen, signed himself, and reconnected with his down-South roots. And Boss of all Bosses is one of the two enjoyable albums I've heard so far this year.

As a rapper, Slim Thug is as solid as solid gets. He has a deep, rumbling voice that is hard to ignore. It apparently didn't mesh well with The Neptunes' synth-based beats on Already Platinum (which I haven't heard yet), but it rests comfortably on top of thicker tracks. His lyrics have a Scarface-like sternness about them. He won't dazzle with punchlines or rhyme-schemes, but he's relatable and he'll rarely drop a stinker. His voice is isn't chorus-friendly, so he implies other strategies to make his songs a little more.....songy. Screwed up voices, chipmunk voices, straight soul samples, and guest rappers (Devin The Dude, Chamillionaire).

The production on Boss of all Bosses expertly works the divide of modern Southern production and traditional Southern production. The quaking intro "Boss of all Bosses" surely borrows elements from Trap or Die. Jim Jonsin employs queasy, backwards synths for the banging, Flock of Seagulls-sampling lead single "I Run". Jonsin is also responsible for the one of the few missteps, the overly-glittery "Smile". Check the low buzzes on the banging "Thug" and the syrupy seduction track "She Like That". The album's gold star is the Devin The Dude-assisted "I'm Back". Slim Thug joyously announces his return to street-oriented music. Dr. Dre was originally the producer, but his version was replaced with Mr. Lee's version. Lee's track works as a mini-symphony with guitar chugs, floating synth noises, small clicks, sliding organs, and piano clinks working together to represent satisfaction.

Mannie Fresh produces the bouncy, funky "Show Me Love". A soothing chorus and low bass is the only backdrop for the Paul Wall-assisted Top Drop. Pimp C drops a realllllly great verse on Leaning, a track that sounds like he could've produced it as well. Uncharacteristicly, Bun B has the least memorable verse. Z-Ro and J-Dawg strongly assist Slim Thug on the precautionary, guitar laden "Associates". Scarface and J-Dawg (who I really like) save the soulful "Hard" from becoming filler.

The missteps include the aforementioned Smile, the "I love my girl" song "My Bitch", which isn't bad, but it messes up the gangsta flow that Top Drop, Thug, and Leaning develop. Album closer "Welcome to Houston" is the bajillionth "get every rapper from Houston to drop a verse" song ever. Nobody does anything special. Missteps aside, Boss of all Bosses is a consistently entertaining album worth buying.

Overall: 8.5/10

Best Songs: I'm Back, Associates, Leaning


Gorilla Zoe - Don't Feed Da Animals

Before Welcome to the Zoo was released, I found about 11 Gorilla Zoe tracks on my uncle's computer. These tracks were enough to make a Gorilla Zoe fan. He had a husky, catchy delivery and a Cam-ish sense of humor. I liked him, but not enough to see what the album sounded like. Don't Feed Da Animals is Zoe's sophomore album and it he shows none of the talent he showed on those eleven tracks.

Production is full of that synth-based southern production that isn't really that good unless it comes from Drumma Boy or Jeezy. Drumma Boy produces four tracks, including lead single and gold star, "Lost". I certainly didn't expect such a creepy, hypnotizing track from a rapper like Gorilla Zoe, but I like pleasant surprises. The tricking anthem "I Got It" and the pop-treading break-up song "Echo" are big fun. Those tracks and the bruising opener "Untamed Gorilla" are the ony truly good songs. Everything else is generic baller rap.

Zoe doesn't display the sense of humor and sleepwalks his way through damn near every track. He sounds his best when sing-rapping with an auto-tune as he does on Lost and Echo. Not only his lyrical performance weak, but some of these concepts are just terrible. Shit punchlines were played out a long time ago, so why make a shit song (Shit On Em)? And the sex-rap "Talk Back" with porn-star turned rapper Roxy Reynolds is not a good look (though I will recommend Ms. Reynolds' porn).

Don't Feed Da Animals is a monotonous, generic album from a rapper who is capable of a highly entertaining CD. One strength that happens to be a flaw is the small amount of guest appearances. Rick Ross, Gucci Mane, OJ Da Juiceman, and Roxy Reynolds compose the guest list. Its good that artists are cutting down on guest appearances, but at least get high-quality guest appearances. If you're a fan of car music, this is pretty solid. Otherwise, just limewire Untamed Gorilla, Lost, I Got It, and Echo.

Overall: 2.5/5

Best Songs: Lost, Echo, Untamed Gorilla


Joe Budden - Padded Room

It's finally here. Joe Budden's highly anticipated (to internet dudes) second studio album, Padded Room, is finally here. It's not a mixtape, or a digital download, or a mixtape turned album, or a collection of leftovers. All new music. Sadly, Padded Room suffers from mixtapetoalbumtransitionitis (Working on an acronym). It plagues most artists who perfected their craft through mixtapes. They think an album is supposed to be a versatile and melodramatic exercise in attempted perfection. Budden falls into this category like the rest of them.

Conceptually, Padded Room is an extention of the Mood Muzik series. The anger at the industry, lyrical exercises, and mental anguish that made the Mood Muzik series so good are all present in Padded Room, but here it feels less like an audio diary and more like manufactured drama. The majority of the 1st half is spent on boring tracks with no aim. The horn-infused opener "Now I Lay" is the best of this bunch. In My Sleep is a conceptual track about a bunch of abstract dreams. But instead of turning it into something truly compelling, Budden just rattles off a bunch of retarded David Lynch-esque images. Do Tell, Angel in my Life, and Pray for Me are the three semi-boring tracks that deal with Budden's fractured psyche. Do Tell is Budden talking to the world after committing suicide, Angel in my Life is him lashing out at the world from the confines of a padded room, and Pray for Me is a conversation with God. They're all interesting tracks, but are brought down by the boredom of the production.

Oh yeah, the production sucks. He ditches the soul influences of Mood Muzik and the diversity of Halfway House for the cheesy electro-tones and boring strings provided by Amalgam's in-house producers. Lead single "The Future" and the Tupac biting "Blood on the Wall" tie for worst beats. The two best tracks, "I Couldn't Help It" and "Exxxes", are near silent. Exxxes has spanish guitar plucks, finger snaps, and one-dimensional strings. Budden breaks down a couple of mind-gnawing relationships. I Couldn't Help It is pretty self-explanatory, as Joe explains wanting to abort his son and sleeping with one of his best friend's girl. This is all over some string plucking and some heavenly serenading.

Budden seems to lose his knack for dark humor and clever punchlines. The deeper stuff is very well written, but almost too perfect. He leaves no room for the smaller human things that we bloggers like to analyze. He seems very detached from it all.

Overall, Padded Room will stand as one of the biggest disappointments of all-time in my book. Budden has unfortunately become a victim of mixtapetoalbumtransitionitis. Oh well, we have still have Mood Muzik 2.

Best Songs: Exxxes, I Couldn't Help It, Now I Lay