4:21…The Day After
ow could you ever say that I'm washed up, when I'm the dirtiest thing in sight?" The final line on the intro to 4:21…The Day After is one of many indicating that Method Man may very well be aware that the window is closing for him. You want to believe him every time he flips one of his trademark double entendres ("it's like Merrill Lynch, I'm on that bullshit"), tossed-off come-ons ("you make a n**** wanna get a job"), or labyrinthine dazzlers ("Let me fuck with your wig / Though you're lovin' the style / Ain't no pedophile can fuck with the kid"). But not five seconds after "Intro" ends, "Is It Me?" finds Scott Storch's ivories twinkling like overly bleached teeth.
"Is It Me?" ends up banging anyway and it's the story of 4:21 in a nutshell: at times, it seems like it has every intention of being as bloated and starfucked as Method Man's previous two releases, but it's saved by Meth’s sheer force of will on the mic.
With Def Jam meddling with his last album, Fox giving his sitcom an early hook, and Wendy Williams cheaply exploiting his wife's sickness on the radio, Method Man has no shortage of people to lash out on. And while he's understandably defensive on lead single "Say," it's a good thing he brought in Lauryn Hill to turn on the waterworks, because his dour lyrics mask his alienating, untenable viewpoint that the lukewarm response to his recent output is a result of a media conspiracy and that critics should shut up until they try their hand at rap. It doesn't help that the track that precedes it is exactly what we've been talking about all along; undecided as whether to imitate DipSet ("Oh Boy," "I Really Mean It") or G-Unit (nearly everything), "I Gotta Have It" settles for a smug middle ground and ends up being possibly the laziest thing he's ever put his name to.
Most of the rest of 4:21 sounds impervious to the influence of recent chart-toppers, though. It's no insult to say that Method Man sounds like he was only meant to rhyme over the lumpy funk of Erick Sermon and the outrageously blunted beats of RZA, both who get multiple return-to-form appearances. And seriously, pointing out how strong the Wu posse cuts are in 2006 is starting to lose its novelty, but "The Glide" and "Presidential MC's" will only ramp up anticipation for a new group album that will hopefully drop sometime before the new millennium. Even Ol' Dirty Bastard's turn on "Dirty Mef" is astonishingly sturdy.
But the Ginuwine-assisted "Let's Ride" and "Walk On" both sound like they're stuck in turn-of-the-century morass; the former because it's everything you expect it to be, the latter for Redman's Chris Berman-esque refusal to update his pop-culture touchstones (Kurt Cobain, The Block Is Hot, Friday). "Fall Out" is an artless attempt at ghostwriting a club banger for In My Lifetime, Vol. 2, and it even includes some Biggie quotes just to show he knows his audience. Meanwhile, Meth and Styles do their damnedest to bring back that ol' New York rap on the mammoth "Ya'meen," but they can't live up to the Herculean task of carrying Fat Joe whose clubfooted, gimmicky flows are exactly what he deserves for spending the last two years pretending like he's from Miami.
If it seems like this review has been leaning on the negatives too much to justify the grade, it's mostly because the good stuff is unremarkable in a strictly non-pejorative sense. Contrary to his beliefs, we do know him and we do know his style. His style just works best when he shows up to a grimy beat and raps his ass off, which is exactly the case with the sublime shit-talking on "Somebody Done Fucked Up."
4:21 will inevitably be overrated. It's an absolute masterpiece compared to the unanimously derided bricks recently dropped by partners in rhyme DMX, Busta Rhymes, and Mobb Deep. And it's too easy to lump it in with Fishscale and Game Theory, two remarkably strong, hands-off albums that Jay-Z cosigned while trying to find the next shortbus-riding mushmouth to turn into a Def Jam franchise. It would be great to posit 4:21 as a "return to form," but as to be expected with a record that's rife with the pungent odor of weed smoke, there's a distinct skew between perception and reality. Wu diehards will see it as a 35-minute core of classic Method Man, while critics should view it as a 60-minute behemoth that's a marked improvement over Tical O and Judgment Day, but still padded with pointless skits and Charmin-soft rap & bullshit. Which one is it? How about both: 4:21 is redemption and relapse. Now, if only RZA could pull an intervention.