cope, usually blown way out of proportion by rap moguls, is occasionally a strong point for Bryan Williams, a.k.a. Birdman a.k.a. Baby a.k.a. founder of Cash Money records and attempted flag carrier of post-U.G.K. southern rap. His newest release, Fast Money, unbelievably both delayed and sloppily assembled, does appropriate justice to Birdman’s unending obsession with his home town of New Orleans, while at the same time manages to foul up almost everything else in sight.
Area of concern #1: A Cash Money cavalry of bouncy, rubbery keyboards layered over assault-rifle kick drums courtesy of in-house producer Mannie Fresh is the standard tonic for Cash Money albums. But Fresh only produces four of the seventeen songs of Fast Money.
Song after song it’s the run-of-the-mill shtick rehearsed with Birdman’s awkwardly loud murmur and asinine diction. “Shovlin’ Snow,” “We Got That,” and “Cash Money Niggaz” all get stuffed with the same drab repository of effects: grinding, confrontational keyboard notes, numbing, pseudo-military drums and an overall glossy-ghetto texture that even your grandma knows is played out. Maybe ancient China was onto something with their whole “closed off to outsiders” policy. Cash Money, much like the Han dynasty, works better with the welcome mat taken away.
Baby isn’t immediately unlikable; his record of charity work in the infamous Magnolia Street projects is refreshing, and he’s had the good sense to let Mannie Fresh (certainly a hilarious and competent rapper in his own right) and Lil’ Wayne grab the stick frequently on Fast Money. Verbal skills aren’t in his cards, but like Frank O’Hara did with Manhattan, Birdman endlessly and hungrily recites the legends of his town. His dreams never swell past the borders of New Orleans; he’s content to merely rule the city as a wizened old advisor.
Nice theme, but he still doesn’t do a very good job of covering for the fact that there’s just not that much going on with Fast Money. The lead single “Get Your Shine On,” is more confusing, ham-handed verses and the same three boasts you’ve heard on every other track on the disc, “Lets get it understood, nigga that’s my price / Come through the neck of the woods, you be alright / Cause I'm pimpin’, I'm pimpin’ pimpin’, I'm comin’ thru / And I'm dippin, I'm dippin’ dippin’, them 22’s.”
There’s tossing everything at hand against the wall to see what sticks and then there’s just tossing crap. This is the latter.
Birdman’s sub-tepid vocal abilities don’t really warrant extended dissection; they’re bad, and sound beyond old. The ship is sinking and nobody with a sense of self-preservation wants to stick around this mess anyway. Fresh looks like he ran away fast enough. On second thought, Fresh’s best contribution, “Gettin’ It On” is such an both an act selflessly self-plagiarizing (the basic drum pattern and hook from “Hood Rich”) and an imitation so shameless (the tongue clicks from Snoop’s monstrous single, “Drop It Like It’s Hot”) you can probably see him blush as you listen. We now know how bad Fresh’s drowsy, apathetic side can get. God help us if he ever gets his hands on some Galaxie 500 records.
The album’s only redeeming moment, “Neck of the Woods,” the album’s second single, diverges from the standard aging-gangster pap to try to simply tell what happened. Lil’Wayne snatches at the track like his long-standing flirtation with jumping to Def Jam is at Terror Alert Level Orange. Here he spits, ragged, barbed wire lines. Baby is no slouch either, sounding comfortable in his age. He closes the song with the simplest and most affecting sequence in his oeuvre, “It's when you gotta ride / It's when the homie dies / And the money can't stop the pain in the inside.” In an album of plain, resume-building saber-rattling, this fix of personal truth is the real weapon.