Album: Godfather Buried Alive
Label: Gangland / Def Jam
Rating: 7 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Many would argue that if 2004’s Hiphop high points were the release of an album from a rapper who has been in jail since 2001 (and remains there) and the return of a much hated-on commercial emcee who originally traded his mic for a bible and pulpit, then the low points must have been extremely low. The return of Jamal Barrow a.k.a Shyne (and his ex-Bad Boy labelmate, Mase) to the Hiphop arena has definitely caused an almighty kerfuffle this summer. But while Mase has been able to back up his return with videos and physical appearance, Shyne remains languishing in jail, a result of his decision not to ‘rat’ on former homie Puff Daddy, who many agree sacrificed Mr Barrow to the legal system in return for his own freedom. (Diddy of course denies this.) Whatever the case may be, Shyne has new material on the shelves by way of Def Jam.
“Wait a minute,” you say. “How can he record new material if he’s locked in the belly of the beast?” Well see, here’s the thing… most of the stuff here ISN’T new material. Just before Shyne was sentenced a flurry of mixtapes hit the street, supposedly recorded during his trial. Much of that mixtape material is re-released here, though in standard label-pimping fashion, Def Jam have tweaked a few things here and there, adding guest vocallists and such like. In addition, there’s also a track that was recorded over the phone, just like the Usher ‘Confessions’ remix where the midget Dupri pasted an awful Shyne verse (both in terms of lyrical AND sound quality) over the beat in all its offbeat glory. More on this later, for now lets walk with Shyne Po…
‘Quasi OG’ starts things off, sounding like a remnant from the debut Bad Boy album days. Over a loping Bob Marley sample (hooked up by Buckwild), Shyne speaks eloqently on the plight of the black community, asking where the drugs in his community come from, and why African Americans are carrying out the plans of the ‘secret society’ by killing each other. Despite the fact that homeboy STILL sounds eeriely like Biggie (he DOES, I don’t give a fuck what you say), its an interesting and thought provoking opener.
‘More Or Less’ has been floating around on mixtapes for the last couple of years. Here Foxy Brown has been added to the hook and for some strange reason she lowers her voice a couple of octaves and puts on a thick slur on her words in order to make her sound more like Shyne. Strange young lady. The track itself is a slow paced confessional type joint, produced by Kanye West (who does a decent job this outing), and features some incredibly ironic lyrics from Shyne considering his current position. “Hiphop ain’t responsible for violence in America, America’s responsible for violence in America.” Unfortunately it WAS a combination of the two that sees Shyne behind bars today.
‘Behind The Walls’ is an old cut from the OZ soundtrack but has been tweaked in an attempt to produce a similar feel to Jigga’s ‘Change The Game’ remix – a East Coast artist spitting over a West coast-flavoured beat, backed by the Dogg Pound. However its a rather clumsy attempt, and Shyne’s verse haphazardly dropped in between two Kurupt verses sticks out like a sore thumb. In fact the most interesting thing about this cut, are Kurupt lines about him and his dawg Daz – of course everyone knows that nowadays they’re ready to rip each others’ throats out.
‘Shyne’ sees the man himself linking up with Swizz Beats with the same lackluster results as the first time this cut dropped on Swizz’s compilation album from a couple of years ago. Swizz has never been one of my favourite producers – for some reason his beats sound incredibly glossy at times to me. Here, his beat comes out as a throwaway from the recording sessions for Eve’s “Eveolution” album – the similarity to 3 or beats from that joint is jusy lazy. The addition of the soul-less Mashonda to the hook is no more than an attempt to sugar a difficult-to-swallow pill – and the fact that the same trick is attempted again later on the Murder Inc throwaway cut ‘Jimmy Choo’ smacks of more than a little desperation to get a radio single out of what is in reality, quite a hard gritty album.
‘For The Record’ is the only track on the album that has been recorded recently. As we’ve already covered, this means that Shyne had to record this over the phone. Luckily though Moses Levy and Chucky Thompson did a better job with keeping homeboy’s lyrics on beat that Dupri did… their beat ain’t half bad either, sampling Whodini, and coming off like a dark version of BDP’s ‘Why Is That?’ (or ‘Welcome To Atlanta’ for you younguns.) As for Shyne’s lyrics and flow… well they get a mixed reception here – I mean, I know he’s trying his best to drop some new material, but the quality of the phone line lyrics, combined with the crow call (what the FUCK has Jadakiss started??!) at the beginning really had me forcing myself to stay with this cut.
‘Martyr’ and ‘ The Gang’ are also both produced by the above duo, and in both cases, they hook up some sparse instrumentals that allow Shyne to fully display his persona on the track. ‘Martyr’ is especially memorable, as he describes his everyday struggle with his emotions in the time leading up to his trial…
“Live every day like it’s my last, waiting to meet my niggas that passed
Alas, I can meet Christ and ask him, ‘Why the fuck you died on the cross?’
Cuz look at all these stupid muthafuckers, they still lost
Holla at Malcolm, see what it was like to fight
for civil rights on nights he thought he would die
What did he do? Did he grab a gun and bust a shot?
Get on my knees, praise Big and go fuck wit Pac
Find out, did he really take 5 shots
Ask him, who shot ya? Was it the Feds?
Couldn’t have been Big Poppa, Brooklyn niggas aint bred like that
Ask Martin, ‘Why the fuck you ain’t fight back?'”
‘The Gang’ is the second track to feature an added verse from Foxy, and here she decides to impersonate Lil Kim instead of Shyne. Strange young lady.
‘Godfather’ is another high point of the album, with its haunting violin sample supporting an intense Shyne as he spits some more ironic gun and cash talk. At the time this was recorded he was talking about how fans wanted to live just like him… getting the girls, winning the fights, getting the respect… you know the deal. Now however the opposite is true… NOBODY wants to be like Shyne, nobody wants to “bust their guns” or “crime” like Shyne… they’ve seen where that action leads. Yes he may well have kept an unbelievable amount of street rep and respect, but at what personal cost to him and his loved ones?
Rounding off the album, the simple ‘Edge’ is overshadowed to 2 thumpers from Just Blaze. ‘Here With Me’ is dominated by a disgustingly fonkay bassline – in fact the track is such a head nodder, Shyne could fart his lyrics for 4 and half minutes, and a it would still sound dope. ‘Diamonds And Mac 10’s’ meanwhile is much more melodic, sampling Morris Albert with classic big-screen cinema effect.
It seems that Def Jam (and to a lesser extent, Shyne himself) have somehow pulled it off. An album full of almost entirely old material still sounds remarkably fresh, especially if you’re not a big fan of the mixtape scene. The fact that its not overlong is another major factor – you get that feeling that if this has ran to 18 or 20 tracks then the filler scenario would be prevalent… however, as things stand its a strong testament to a young man, who on this (albeit dated) outing has impressed me much more than on his Bad Boy debut. Definitely worth considering.