Monday, November 3, 2008

AZ "N.4.L"

AZ is an enigma. Sure we all know the name and remember with absolute clarity that first time we heard him (Life’s A Bitch, anyone?) but after showing us a glimpse of a very talented emcee his career took several ups and downs before recently taking a steady downturn. His product that has been delivered via Koch over the last few years has progressively gotten worse and it was with nervous ears I downloaded this free mixtape.

My fears were answered in kind with what seems to be his MO these days. Relying on his laurels he still flows well and his smooth voice is always easy to listen to, however something is missing. We are treated to the same smooth delivery, but little of the attention to detail or content that has elevated him above the street. Even in the past when he has leaned on the tales of another life he would weigh in heavily with the stark reality of those choices.

Maybe he is getting tired? Even so that doesn’t excuse the weak guest spots that only further the street tales and generic drug talk. Luckily a few moments are present when we are shown just what it is we all expected from him since 1994. “Runaway Slave” is AZ at his storytelling best with a clean rhyme scheme in tact he tells a brutal story of a man deciding his freedom is worth whatever pain may be inflicted upon him in risk of achievement.

This mixtape was released around the time Nas was campaigning for his “N” word album and, as the title suggests, it was inspired by the same ideas. Unfortunately it feels like he wasn’t really trying to connect the music to anything concrete as we are given tracks that try to provide excuses for illegal behavior rather than offering a positive alternative or showing a way out.

When he does touch on racial issues (such as the aforementioned “Runaway Slave”) he delivers decent bars, but nothing ever sticks and the beats seem to call him back to the streets. The production duo Street Radio is holding it down behind the boards and they are solid, but rarely demonstrate anything that will get them above doing mixtapes with former all-stars or no name spitters. Utilizing basic sound effects and pulling some nice loops out for some of the tracks the beats are never disengaging but they won’t keep you coming back for more.

Listening to this mixtape hurts. I’ve been an AZ fan for a minute and at one point would pick his albums up on the strength of his name alone. I’m usually reviewing stuff that I already know I like, which is far easier. Finding the words to express disappointment, yet also hearing moments that you wish could have been expounded upon, the creation of art isn’t always simple and while this album probably won’t make it into the next year in your iTunes, it might spark your mind for a second.

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