Harlem: Diary of a Summer
he economic model of the Dipsets—the suddenly notable gaggle of rappers and “businessmen” fronted by Cam’Ron, Juelz Santana and the man of this hour, Jim Jones—has been, by any account, an unprecedented triumph of shrewd marketing and cost-cutting measures. Even more impressive considering that each of these policies has been able to mask the main problem with the cabal: no one can really rap that well.
To be fair, most Dipset mixtapes and albums are good for a quick, fizzy single that rolls out like a fruit snack and leaves a comparatively long sugar high. Harlem: Diary of a Summer, Jim’s second album, isn’t much different. I guess the single (and best track) from Harlem is “Baby Girl,” a decent enough mid-tempo club joint whose beat is nary more than a swiftly picked guitar and ever-so-quiet-and-bulbous kick drum. It’s cool for a few listens but then it comes across as cheap and haphazard; it really does sound like they put half the beat on layaway and promptly got forgetful about the payments.
Calling Jones’ verbal skills workmanlike is proper only because he’s got a stark, 9-5, punch the clock, get-me-the-hell-out-of-these-sixteen-bars mentality. By the end of a verse he’s as nondescript and passionless as a guy waiting for the bus home. He’s also ready to leave because even when he’s rapping with the pals, Jones doesn’t fit in with the mad cult leader vibe of Cam’Ron or Juelz Santana, who seems to perpetually have his eye on the exit sign that reads “DEF JAM.”
But don’t you dare forget that business acumen. No matter how weak Harlem gets, and it does hit some eye-bugging lows, Jones will probably finish this year a very rich man. He directs the lion share of Dipset videos; he’s been instrumental in the marketing of the Dipset’s own liquor (which apparently sells like hot cakes), and he and Killa rarely go for the high price-point producers who drain a young rapper’s budget faster than a drug habit. Koch Records, the group’s new home, has long been a home for struggling mid-major rap acts (B.G., Royce Da 5’9”), helping the artists cut costs with slim PR budgets and woefully low production values. Just peep Harlem’s album cover, it’s a pseudo-throw back to the pixel-happy No Limit album covers from the mid-‘90s.
This wafer-thin approach to album construction is the only significant thing about Harlem. Almost every song on board is an unremarkable cocoon—effortlessly bad, uncreative, and musty. I can tell you the differences between “We Just Ballin’” and “What You Been Drankin On?” have something to do with the style in which Jones promises to gully-up the club, but the discernable comparisons end there. Jones doesn’t even have the common courtesy to really muck things up with some skits about high school girls or lame white television reporters trapped in the “hood.”
The music really does seem to be an afterthought for the Dipsets. Cam is famous for announcing at various shows that he no longer “needs” to make records and continues to do so only “to be nice.” Jim looks infinitely more at home talking about directing videos on Rap City then he does actually rapping in his own videos. He’s got plenty of things on his mind other than music making. More power to him as he climbs the tax brackets. Maybe he’ll even phase out making records from his portfolio.
Reviewed by: Evan McGarvey
Reviewed on: 2005-09-07