’m pretty sure I’m seen as Stylus’ resident hip-hop killjoy anyways, so I’ve got nothing to lose by just coming out and saying it: objectively, expecting Red Gone Wild to be any good is some real head-up-your-ass wishful thinking. He hasn’t released a studio album since 2001’s entirely forgettable Malpractice and his high-profile cameos that came afterwards were filled with pop-culture references that implied he hadn’t written any new rhymes since then. Then you factor in the absurd number of delays; I looked this thing up on All Music Guide, and it had November 10, 2005 as its release date. You’ll probably spend your first listen to the disc in disbelief of its actual existence.
On the other hand, who doesn’t love Redman? And how could you not hope for the best with him? Even during his hiatus, he remained an ideal because no one has replicated his personality, the punch-line machine that doesn’t take himself seriously enough to get involved in “best rapper alive” pissing contests. A guy that will crack a brew, crack your skull, and then crack wise about it.
Not surprisingly, this is the Reggie Noble we get on Red Gone Wild, which in spite of the hedge-betting beats from Timbaland, Scott Storch, and Swizz Beatz, sounds like nothing else in hip-hop except other Redman albums. And that’s a good thing to know coming in, because your enjoyment of this record will be strictly based on how much you like to hear Redman doing Redman things: rhyming about his completely irresponsible and possibly unrealistic weed habit, making anachronistic references to TV shows and movies from decades ago, reviving Dr. Trevis and WKYA radio, letting us know that Keith Murray still raps, etc.
And while Red Gone Wild is one of the most flat-out fun hip-hop releases in years, there’s not enough here to put it in the same category as his finest albums. Nothing jumps off the disc like “Whateva Man” or “I’ll Be Dat,” and there are a couple of duds scattered in Red Gone Wild’s 23 tracks: lead single “Put It Down” is an ill-considered club banger that just idles, “Smtn 4 Urrbody” posits his endlessly touted Gilla House crew as a Newark posse raised solely on St. Lunatics albums, and even your favorite Def Jukie would find the beat on “Get ’Em” unnecessarily clunky.
But otherwise, it seems pointless to single anything out because Red Gone Wild is a beacon of consistency that delivers exactly what you’d want. Redman gets a beat, raps his ass off, that’s about it, and do you have a problem with that? Just think of how many of his contemporaries ruined perfectly good albums in 2006 by feeling a need to address their advancing age and a larger narrative (Method Man’s sourpuss disposition, Nas’ bullshit sense of obligation, Jay-Z alienating everybody except multimillionaires, etc.). Redman gets caught up in none of that, and his time off has him sounding both relieved and hungry, but not to the point where he strays from his strengths. After all, there are tracks named “Blow Treez” and “Merry Jane,” the former an excellent rastafied number that blends dub with JT Money, and the latter a long-awaited collaboration with Snoop Dogg.
It’s quite possible that the grade up there reflects relief more than merit, but I’m not biting on this being little more than a nostalgia trip. Redman’s discography has aged incredibly well, and if you’ve read this far and don’t own Whut? Thee Album or Muddy Waters or Dare Iz A Darkside or—well, you get the idea—go buy them now. But in terms of major-label action, Red’s the only game in town right now, and Red Gone Wild proves worthy of the spotlight. Dope boy fatigue should already be in full force, and this is a great reminder that hip-hop’s most accomplished drug abuser is far more entertaining than any drug dealer.