Wednesday, September 23, 2009

They Grow Up So Fast

Juelz Santana- Back to the Crib (ft. Chris Brown)

I love watching the slow maturation of an artist over the course of a few years. Juelz Santana was once a weed carrier, an also ran in the Harlem collective Cam'ron introduced just before signing to Rocafella he called The Diplomats. It was Cam, Jim Jones and young Juelz, who practiced a barking choppy flow fashioned in his mentor's image. He could be hit or miss, but when he was experimenting with identical rhyme, showing a true New York wiseguy sense of humor in his dealings with the opposite sex, or giving us great little moments like a ride home from the club on the Westside Highway charged with sexual tension you believed he could be more than a hypeman.

His debut album From Me to U is still his best. It was a shockingly vulnerable and solid contribution clocking in at 20 tracks, a majority of them boasting some of the very best beats the brief union between the Diplomats and the Heatmakerz produced. He still showed green, at times lost in his own dense wordplay but with songs like "Why" he displayed an increasing mastery of the multi syllabic punchline and his own approach to Cam's stylistic inclinations, punctuated with emotive charisma. What the Game's Been Missing! was his commercial smash thanks to "There It Go (The Whistle Song)", "Oh Yes" and "Clockwork". The three singles are evidence of an evolved confidence. More than just a practitioner, Juelz became presence with the ability to pen his own hits. His album, dropped at the zenith of this decade's stab at Crack Rap is New York's finest contribution.

On I Can't Feel My Face Juelz teamed with Lil Wayne and made a handful of great tracks. It's like watching two gifted Chemistry students at work in the lab, playing with flow and cadence, playing off each other over delightfully cheap, shitty mixtape production. A real album is unlikely and that's a shame. It's a symbiotic, competition based relationship provoking both to raise their games exponentially on each track.

"Back to the Crib", the first single off Juelz's new album Born to Lose, Built to Win was leaked by Angie Martinez Tuesday afternoon and it's a Polow produced radio killer. A 26 year old Juelz emerges fully formed, scaling back the weirdness for mainstream but showing his trademark flow and bounce to great effect. What strikes me is how surefooted he is on this, comfortable and in complete control alternately wooing and talking shit, a quality Jadakiss for instance has never achieved despite twice as much time served and about 100 attempts at making this song. The Don is predictably great, the weeping horns are perfect for late September and I'll be literally shocked if the video doesn't feature a teenage couple in matching leathers and sweaters cuddled up shopping around Fulton Mall. Chris Brown's personal drama hasn't prevented him from being the least interesting relevant male crooner but even he can't fuck this up. I'm rooting for this album to make a strong showing.

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