Boyz N Da Hood
Boyz N Da Hood
iography, as every critic worth their salt knows, has its limits. While English lit professors and eager undergraduates tangle up the lives and art of Plath, Joyce, Larkin, and Cather, everybody with a copy of Doggystyle and a strut stolen straight from Ice Cube jumps on the “yo, did he do that in real life?”-bandwagon just as erroneously and quickly as the Plath-heads.
Past the alluring gossip and “wow, artists are real people too” factor, biography gets kind of boring; the art that may or may not have arisen from “fact” is infinitely more compelling.
But then that delightfully sticky line between “truth” and “fact” pulls us in again.
Sean Combs, whether we like it or not, seems to get this point better than most. Both the Notorious B.I.G and Jadakiss, the two consummate hardcore rappers of our time, got a hold of the post-Reagan youth under Diddy’s watch. Those days are gone (in case you’ve just moved to America, Biggie is dead and Jada jumped ship) and since untold riches pour into the Bad Boy-less Ports of Diddy, it’s refreshing to see Mr. Combs so quickly put back on the clothes of a hype-magnet and label head.
He also picked an interesting as hell way back in. Looking little like the barn storming N.W.A. paramilitary rappers early press is making them out to be, Atlanta-bred (though their omission of any significant ‘Atlanta’ shout-outs and outright rejection of crunk is startling) Boyz N Da Hood and their self-titled debut tries to repaint the streets of the urban south as a bitter struggle that takes the survival theories of Malthus straight to the corner.
Young Jeezy, Duke, Jody Breeze, and Big Gee all hunt for time at the microphone, and at their best, their verses are improvisational, menacing, and experienced. Which, of course, immediately summons the question: Is all the talk of shaving coke and bringing glocks to grandma’s house for real?
The easiest (and for now, the best) response is, “Does it matter?”
Both Prodigy and Havok from Mobb Deep famously met at the bourgeois Manhattan High School of Art & Design. Biggie actually grew up in a middle class flat in Brooklyn. 2pac took creative writing and dance classes in college. Is a fucking street “resume” really the only way to ensure people take your art seriously? Rap artists don’t have the luxury of the literary “persona.” A short-sighted critical community can’t differentiate between storytelling/experience and doesn’t seem to want to deal with the unique tension that harsh music like Boyz N Da Hood brings to the table. Every young, black male rapper immediately becomes a mouthpiece. Stupidly, at this point, biography becomes tantamount to legitimacy. So, for our sake, let’s just say fuck it to reality and try and see what these guys are telling stories about.
Young Jeezy and Jody Breeze are the shooting stars of the group, Jeezy sounding like an airy, just as rapsy, Jada-in-training, as Jody Breeze clamors away with a scummy, laid-back-as-a-teenager-flow for more drug transactions, more shooting of snitches. The dynamic between Jeezy and Breeze is the centerpiece of Boyz N Da Hood, the volleying of advice and war-stories between the two drags us along the south’s forgotten streets.
On the tense, two-way discourse of “Trap Niggaz,” Jeezy is the cooler head: “Slow ya roll dude, want the real money, gotta lose the attitude / Don’t be talking goddamned reckless on my phone.” Jody is the untapped superego, shooting at anything in his territory, riding the brittle drums and sinking bass into the pit of the metropolis.
Not surprisingly, this incandescent manifesto of a song is buffered by small acres of made-to-order sludge. But stay with me for a second. Jazzy Pha tries to produce songs for this young C-N-N like he’s still doing hits for Ciara. “Happy Jamz” and “Felonies,” Pha productions both, just take his template—giddy bubble synths of various tempos—and get to the album limp and out of place. Executive producer Diddy shows no real nose for sequencing the album: the album’s bright (dark?) sports crop up among pools of motionless, manipulative handclaps and the same boring trumpets they tried to use on Black Rob.
Duke and Big Gee are the lesser pair of MC’s in the group, and while their deficiencies, namely Duke’s wounded vocabulary and Big Gee’s amorphous presentation, hurt the team’s bid for “super-group,” neither are dead-weight. Both men are the voices of reason on the album, dually trying to rein in Breeze’s Machiavellian-id and trying to guide Young Jeezy’s confident ride to the top.
Fleetingly operatic in dynamic and scope, “Don’t Put Your Hands On Me” eats up its own machine-gun snares and dead-of-night string section. Each guy gets a turn on the mic, each guy steps into his place, each guy helps to build the scene of a night at the club gone horribly, horribly awry. The song is dangerously, irresponsibly close in narrative to the famed Shyne/Diddy/J.Lo shootout of yesteryear. It’s also a fantastic, slow-moving firefight of an anthem.
Again though, these chaotic moments of street-Darwinism are buried in between the standard Teutonic bells and tacked onto one-another with no sense of brevity.
So while I’m not completely ready to place my faith into this manifestation of Boyz N Da Hood nor Diddy’s management of a group that simply screams “mix-tape cult,” let’s try to relish what’s here: Young Jeezy and Jody Breeze, two young rappers with characters and stories, real or not, worth hitching a star upon.
Reviewed by: Evan McGarvey
Reviewed on: 2005-07-05