loyd Banks and 50 are supposed to be the epitome of New York gangsta, but they’re certainly not the most interesting gangstas in New York. G-Unit is safe: big proven producers and blockbuster beats, a ubiquitous style of uber-masculine gangsta, a mythology that has grown beyond the music, sales that dwarf any other crew in hip-hop and all too often, a crippling lack of personality. Yawn. The Diplomats are where big apple gangsta is at, Juelez Santana and Jim Jones and especially Cam’ron.
You know. That guy who drops internal free-associative rhymes over beats that exist to be abused? The one that thugged out the color pink and moved on to the color purple? The one that brought up a crew that drops cult classics and mixtapes by the beemerload, still finds time to rap his unique brand of idiosyncratic gangsta? Right, I think you get the point.
But what is Purple Haze? Well, it’s bombastic production and surreal lyricism. Soulful tracks with gritty rapping, whose subject matter may be as formulaic as a Bond flick (guns, coke, girls, hustling, “fuck around dog, get ya head bust!”), but is anything but that in execution. Epic beats. Like “Get Em Girls” which has been out for a minute but never really blew like it should have, dramatic cinematic chorale, “Oh Fortuna” stylee. “I’ll leave you hole-y hole-y, you’ll say ‘Holy moly’”. Lots of dramatic beats like “Family Ties” which is all horns and timpani, a triumphant dipset clarion call. Rip the Ohio Players “Funky Worm” one more time? Hell yeah, why not, Kris Kross sure didn’t wear it out—“The Drope Man” with Jim Jones has Cam on a cross-country award tour over this classic one-track-jack. And the Hill Street Blues theme, oh yeah, that’s sampled for “Harlem Streets”, where Cam does Jay-Z wealth with a Dipset twist: “I made sure my mother and girl are smothered in pearls”. The chorus of “Shake” follows the blueprint of the Diplomat’s “S.A.N.T.A.N.A.”—a ridiculous, high pitched vocal chorus reminiscent of El-P’s “Dead Disnee” but more bizarre because it is so unexpected—“We’re the dips, so cut the shit, ma, twist ya hips and lick your lips.”
Cam likes to play with language. His wordplay isn’t on some underground ‘complexity’ tip, or working Kanye’s tongue-in-cheek style. Cam’s wordplay is simply absurd, even more so because it is delivered poker-faced. Cam is deadly serious. “Wrex-n-Effect, zoom zoom in poom poom, since the movie Cocoon had my uzi platoon, KILLA”. Cam keeps it fresh and then he’ll “let the fish eat ya flesh”. The “realest since Kumbaya” will “soufflé your toupee” and you know he’s in the building mister, “with the Olsen twins and the Hilton Sisters”. Cam is so real yet surreal— Lookin’ back on school / Arts and crafts / Fucked half the staff / Beat up half the class / I was like Dr. Dre though / I have to laugh/ Nigga with an attitude meet me after-math.” He’s got money, and he knows it: “Whips on my fist, houses on my wrists, ya budget on my neck, your spouse on my dick.” What more can you say about a gangsta rap superstar who spits, deadpan: “Hokey pokey dopey lokey okey dokey”? This is one of the few hip-hop LPs where the skits are more predictably straightforward than the songs themselves.
The single “Down and Out” is one of the better Kanye tracks of the year, but is completely Dipsetted. Comparing his closet to a “pet cemetery” because of the furs he keeps? Nobody in G-Unit could think of this shit—no one in hip-hop thinks of this shit, Ghostface aside. Ghostface can’t move units anymore (even though he should be), but somehow Cam always manages to dress up his incongruities in the guise of the accessible. That said, this album won’t be as huge a hit as its successor—there’s no “Hey Ma” to blow up your sister’s discman for the next couple months; but believe this: Purple Haze is such a twisted take on gangsta that it has to be heard to be believed.
Reviewed by: David Drake
Reviewed on: 2004-12-10