Jamal (Shyne) Barrow is the personification of everything that’s wrong with the rap game.
Hold on”¦this time, we’re not talking about lyrical materialism or misogyny. For a change, let’s look at those on the other side of the mic. Specifically, the backdoor double-dealing executives who sink their well-manicured claws into talent, bleed them like a stuck pig and then navigate towards the next “next big thing”.
Shyne signed with Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy Records imprint in 1999. Puffy’s label had lost its way after their breakout year in 1997, as a mass talent exodus (including platinum sellers Mase, The Lox and 112) and poor follow-up sales (Puffy’s Forever LP) put the once powerful empire at a crossroads.
Unfairly hyped as a soundalike for the late Notorious B.I.G., Shyne parlayed his underground buzz into a seven-figure deal, as anticipation grew for his mainstream debut.
But, the Hip Hop community almost immediately turned on him, buying into the whole “Biggie biter” notion. Most notably, Lil’ Kim dropped a none-too-subtle diss that pushed the bounds of both irony and hypocrisy.
Everybody wanna Shyne off of BIG
Get it, Shyne try’n to sound like him when they rhyme
You ain’t a murderer
N*gga please come off that
Let’s not mention that this came from Kim’s Notorious K.I.M. album”¦with Puffy getting an executive producer credit.
In the fall of 2000, Shyne’s self-title album was released and, despite one huge single (Bad Boys) and one or two lesser hits, the LP was considered a commercial and critical disappointment. A few months later, Shyne got caught up in the infamous Puffy nightclub shooting and, for his troubles, was sentenced to 10 years.
Ah, but if hellfire and brimstone (uh, from the crematory flames”¦yeah) can’t stop Tupac’s career, an 11×11 cell must seem like nothing. Godfather is the culmination of Shyne’s unreleased recordings before he went to jail and a high profile signing with Def Jam Entertainment.
It kicks off with Quasi O.G., a predictably paranoid cut that effectively lifts a Bob Marley sample. Shyne slogs through the first verse, falling back on C.I.A. conspiracies and such, before coming strong in verses two and three with comparisons to the Kennedys and his role in the supposed decay of American society.
More or Less is up next and save for Shyne’s coy acknowledgement of the Biggie comparisons, it’s nothing you haven’t heard from him before. He likes him some drugs and embraces the life or death daily dealings that come with it. Of note, however, is that Kanye West gets a production credit on a beat that’s just barely passable, while Foxy Brown makes the first of two cameos. All she has to say, for the most part, is “More or Less” on the hook and can’t even get that right.
She pops up again on The Gang, which wastes a solid stripped-down beat on Foxy’s nonsensical flow about furs, cars and cocaine euphemisms. Shyne’s hard-living schtick actually works on this one, as he ties it into his real-life drama while juxtaposing it with so-called “studio gangstas”.
And that’s as good a segue as any into the album’s most controversial cut, the 50 Cent diss, For The Record. Shyne recorded this one right from a prison pay phone and it’s used over the crazy beat from Mystikal’s Here I Go single. As a diss track, it holds its own as Shyne’s rage is put out for all to see, while the grimy, gritty phone recording lends it a sense of authenticity that it wouldn’t have otherwise:
You just wanna sell records you don’t want warfare
You don’t wanna ride, you wanna get rich and hide
These n*ggaz would’ve died if they shot me nine times
On Martyr, Shyne finally leaves the hustling at home and the results are solid, if unspectacular. He includes a unique spin on the overdone Tupac/B.I.G. beef and ends with open letter to former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani. And we can’t talk “overdone” until we’ve covered voice-sweetened “singer” Ashanti who appears on the hook of Jimmy Choo. This one could’ve easily been a leftover Ja Rule cut, and if he doesn’t want to use something”¦
Of course, we can’t complete a review of anything if there’s a Nate Dogg cameo. The remix to Behind the Walls isn’t as good as the original, but it’s always fun to listen to the continued lyrical decay of guest star Kurupt.
I got a bitch, she’s known for eatin’ a dick
I never gave a f*ck n*gga, never gave a shit