Rating: 8.5 / 10
It seems virtually impossible to review any release by this QB emcee without making some reference to his legendary first appearance on wax, staring alongside Nas on ‘Life €™s a Bitch’ from his classic “Illmatic” album. With this one verse, expectations of what was to come from the then-unknown AZ skyrocketed, but while Nas built on similar buzz following ‘Live at the BBQ’ by dropping “Illmatic” to unanimous praise, assuring notoriety, AZ has remained somewhat in the shadows ever since, with his two previous albums seemingly lost among the general wave of weekly hip-hop releases. I €™m afraid to say that these LPs proved elusive to me too, until recently, but, not wanting to sound like a clichÃ©, I believe all this is about to change with the release of “Aziatic.”
Back in the public eye after his guest spot on Nas €™ 2001 “Stillmatic” album, it seems that this really is make or break time for AZ. The good news is that, unlike many similar releases, he has got the balance between the underground and the commercial almost perfectly right, maintaining vital street credibility, but also making some songs people can dance to. What also lifts him above the general €˜thug emcee’ stereotype is his flow and voice, which both embody smoothness, a fact typified by ‘I’m Back’, a song which uses the same beat as Onyx €™s recent ‘Slam Harder’. While they chose to flip the track into a hype mosh-pit banger, AZ €™s approach is much more restrained, riding the beat with a laid-back flow, providing an interesting contrast with Onyx €™s effort.
It was the jiggy ‘Braveheart Party’ which tarnished “Stillmatic” for many people, and I €™m sure ‘Take It Off’, ‘Hands In The Air’, secret track ‘Doing Me’ and Neptunes-sound-a-like ‘Take Care Of Me’ will provoke similar responses from those same parties, but I have to say that personally, I really don €™t mind these four tracks. Yes, they stand out a touch from the rest of the album €™s sound, but as club tracks go, I €™ve heard much, much worse.
If these songs don €™t attract attention, then AZ €™s reunion with Nas on ‘The Essence’ certainly will – another track which captures the smoothness of both men €™s styles. While ‘The Flyest’ from “Stillmatic” was a touch disappointing, this track is a drastic improvement, truly recapturing the chemistry of ‘Life’s A Bitch’ again, over a seriously nice beat. It is this definite soulful vibe which runs throughout all the album €™s production, with old-school funk mostly taking precedent over the current electronic trend. Perfect examples of this come in the album €™s first track, the horn led ‘Once Again’, ‘Paradise’ and the sublime ‘Hustler’, all showcasing the affect that beats properly tailor made for a particular artist can have, rather than the usual rent-a-producer fare which populate the charts these days.
It really comes to something when, just like the recent Cormega album, the only proper negative comment you can come up with is that the album is simply too short, but clearly 40 pure minutes of dopeness is preferable to 40 minutes of heat, plus another 20 minutes of clear filler. In conclusion therefore, when every track competes for your attention (including the nicely chopped up outro) you know you €™re onto a winner; AZ truly has the gift of gab, and coupled with such top-notch production, he really cannot fail this time round to finally step out from behind Nas €™ shadow and assert his own personality upon the eager hip-hop world.