Sunday, November 30, 2008

Across 125th: Cam'ron- Come Home With Me

Cameron Giles’ career as an artist began casually in Harlem, where he was born and raised. Initially part of a group known as Caged Fury, Killa Cam, his cousin Derek “Bloodshed” Armstead, (Owner of the greatest Hip Hop lisp this side of Dana Dane) and Manhattan Center High School Basketball teammate Mason “Murda Mase” Betha were recruited by a proficient local battle rapper named Lamont Coleman to form a group called Children of the Corn. As the name suggests, Big L and the rest of the collective took a gothic approach to their Hip Hop, reminiscent of the Horror core made prominent at the time by New York concept group The Gravediggaz and the immortal Braunstein Brothers.

The style Cam employs on these rough demos suggests a heavy influence on the part of the group’s founder, two years his senior. His rough, syllable packing style undeniably resembles Big L's, a multi-syllabic punchline genius with a delivery and cadence that practically gave birth to the mixtape rapper. (Big Daddy Kane, no disrespect intended) Cam would make his first major label appearance on “8 Iz Enuff”, a posse cut off L’s similarly morbid, classic Lifestlez ov da Poor & Dangerous. From the beginning Cam was an MC pursuing a particular fascination with words, the way they sound and flow. The C.O.C. mixtape compilation released in 2003 suggests that perhaps that fascination began with the late, great Harlem legend.

Giles and Betha ended up bouncing from the group to pursue basketball careers before going solo. After contributing a song he called “Crush On You” to Lil Kim’s Hardcore, Cam was signed to Biggie’s manager Lance “Un” Rivera’s new label Untertainment. Cam’s Confessions of Fire would stay true to the C.O.C. legacy. The debut is filled with inventive occult subtexts and introspective soul searching. It was all spit in affected, high pitched, rapid fire couplets that would fade with maturity. His spotty, occasionally great Sports Drugs & Entertainment would follow after an unfortunate bout of label bullshit and Cam would drop out of site for a few years. He resurfaced in 2002 as the first big name signing to Rocafella Records, the beginning of fellow Harlem Representative Dame Dash’s Steinbrenner approach to running a label, and the beginning of the end for the Roc.

The resulting album was one of the last of its kind. 50 Cent’s success would usher in a new standard format for big budget releases of this sort. He broke a corporate model for this decade that laid any notion of a cohesive long player to rest in favor of loosely held together collections of focus grouped singles, featuring something for each demographic. Come Home with Me is a gritty yet accessible work with an eye firmly planted on the street, the kind Cam had always excelled at and Def Jam churned out consistently through the late 90s. Take "Hey Ma" for example. It was the album’s second single and a boldface play for mass appeal. An outfit known as Tuneheadz sends up a barely recognizable “Easy Like A Sunday Morning” for what should be an average 106 & Park club jam. What proceeds is a tough yet sentimental, timeless ride-out song oozing with swaggering wit and immaculate detail.

Come Home With Me was a nearly flawless effort that remains Cam’s most successful commercial contribution. It marked the beginning of a productive, short lived partnership with blue chip Roc producers Just Blaze and Kanye West. (Few MCs have as much fun over Kanye’s beats) Along with Young Guru and the Heatmakerz, the Diplomats would help make chipmunk soul Rocafella’s signature sound. “Dead Or Alive”, “I Just Wanna” and the anthemic “Oh Boy” are certainly noteworthy contributions to the cannon. There’s no filler present. Guest appearances from Beanie Sigel, Daz, C.O.C. alum McGruff and even Memphis Bleek all result in success. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to nitpick, Juelz sounds wanting for the comfort and confidence that will come later.

Come Home With Me can be looked at as a point of departure. It is steeped in a strongly emoted love for yesterday’s New York. Cam said at the time of the album’s release that he wanted to relate the grimy, gritty Harlem he grew up with, conceding that it had been replaced by a midtown suburb where Bill Clinton set up shop and newly minted college graduates find authenticity and apartments they can afford on nonprofit salaries. The result is the kind of grimy and gritty album that used to pound out of speakers on those Harlem Streets. You can feel the love, from Juelz Santana’s brief, beautiful ride home on the Westside Highway, to Jim Jones’ impassioned delivery on the title track to Jay and Cam proudly exchanging street names, neighborhoods and zip codes on “Welcome to New York City”. In addition, this would be Cam’s final cohesive, orthodox, New York styled long player as Hip Hop power and influence rapidly migrated South. It would be followed by Purple Haze, a sprawling, compelling odyssey in which he allows himself to go everywhere and features much of the experimentation with internal rhyme schemes and multi-multi- syllabic punchlines he’d been playing with on his mixtape work. Cam would venture off into delivery obsessed, non-lyrical territory previously uncharted by East Coast MCs this side of the Mason Dixon Line (See: Computing, Computers) and for it the Hip Hop literati would ride him mercilessly. In this humble fan’s opinion, Big L would be proud. It was a natural progression of style and a step in the right direction.


tray said...

I mean, I hear some filler. Like that song with Bleek and Beans, where they don't even deserve to be in the same studio Cam's in but are anyway. The whole Roc-a-Fella-ness of the record holds it back a little. And that's why Purple Haze is the better album, because there's nothing Roccish about that.

Anonymous said...

I've disliked Cam'ron pretty much since "357" and "Horse and Carriage." But reading this piece, I'm gonna scoop up this album used somewhere. I always remember LOVING the beats on "Come Home With Me" and disliking pretty much everything sans the guest apperances from non-Dipset dudes.

Thanks for swaying me, Abe.

Abe Beame said...

If you read the last two paragraphs I'm careful with my wording when it comes to placing CHWM in Cam's cannon. For me, Purple Haze is more interesting hands down, but this is one of the last thematic, cohesive albums that New York MCs released consistently through the 90s, and it's a great contribution to that style. With all do respect Tray, "The Roc (Just Fire)" is fucking awesome.

douglas martin said...

yeah, there's filler in come home with me, but let's be real: it's a rap album made in the early 00's. this was a great write-up for what is, in my opinion, cam's best album. it's an intriguing portrait of "the bad guy" while he was still likable.

case in point, from the title track: "come on home with me/where my mother found my crack platter/threw it away, so snapped at her/backslapped her/she picked up a bat like mcguire, for that matter/hit me/i was back at her." fuck it, cam's whole verse on that joint is fire.

as far as "the roc (just fire)," it's a complete banger, and beans and bleek (BLEEK!) hold their own against cam's verse. to be honest, i think that even on his best day, cam couldn't see beans on the mic.

tray said...

It's alright, Beans's verse starts off hot and ends up being kinda desultory, but still, Cam rhyming "leave you Reesey Piecey" with "Christian Dior, BCBG" really shits on anything he or Bleek has to say. Similarly, while Jay does have the hotter verse on W2NYC, I think that song was a mistake for Cam, straightforward Just Blaze bombast (as opposed to weird Just Blaze bombast) isn't his thing, nor is he really the anthemic type. On the whole album he's kinda shoehorned into a sound and concepts that don't quite work for him (Pac tributes, obligatory singles for the ladeez, etc.). He also gives too much mic time to a not-yet-very-good Juelz and a pretty awful, though amusing, Jimmy. Finally, he's still a little in between his S.D.E. flow (and voice, which actually changes from Early Cam to Late Cam) and his full-fledged bizarro flow/voice. It's a very transitional work.