Various Artists
Hustle & Flow
Atlantic
2005
D+



as each piece of the southern rap scene begins to re-define itself on a national level—Atlanta away from Houston from Memphis from New Orleans from Mississippi—the global, universally applicable summaries of ‘southern’ rap are becoming porous. Here’s one of the few solid ones left: Southern rappers aren’t just hungry, they’re plain thirsty for recognition.

The soundtrack for the recent John Singleton movie Hustle & Flow tries to unite all this diverging heat on the cusp of a large, impressive film that’s probably going to grab the non-XXL and Murder Dog audience and (hopefully) wrench their vision to a spot under the Mason-Dixon Line.

Dear Atlantic and the guys at Hustle & Flow, if you had really gotten their act together, this could’ve been a valuable record of Southern rap and a kick-ass single’s list for 2005. But of course, before you get to E-40, Bohagon and Lil’ Scrappy on the stealthy, so-minimal-it-sounds-abandoned “Pussy Niggaz,” you have to sit through 8Ball & MJG get “Tell Me Why,” a mystifying piece of treacle that sounds like a rejected Babyface album track.

A good look at the liner notes (the real Rosetta Stone for modern rap appreciation and debate) shows that four different labels and imprints divvied up this disc. As much as I like having the rare album with T.I. alongside Mike Jones alongside Jody Breeze, that also means we get Webbie (who looks and sounds lame enough to be some sound engineer’s nephew) stacked in between Trillville and someone apparently named Nasty Nardo.

I’m sorry, that last one just sounds like a gym class nickname.

So, in all fairness, about a third of the album is refuse; D-list MC’s with abscessed beats. T.I.’s own crew, P$C, looks like a gaggle of his bodyguards and rocks the beefy, head-against-the-wall style. The lack of any major Three 6 Mafia contributions is more than a little shocking and a straight foolhardy move. Terrance Howard, the star of the film, actually rapped himself as “Djay” and appears three times on the soundtrack. Certainly he’s not a game breaker but his appearances aren’t too foul, his half-snarl is his own and it doesn’t feel like overt multitasking.

Endurance has a reward on this album though. If you can summon the fortitude to slog through some truly woeful songs, there’s a beast lurking in Hustle & Flow’s tail end.

“Get Buck, Get Crunk” was probably a favor. It’s seems like it was a last second-addition done out of kindness to a truly underground cult hero. Memphis’s Al Kapone gets pushed to the back on the album and looks like a guy batting ninth.

Too bad he rips his verses like he’s in a possessed fury. Instead of griping about famous rappers, he moves the crowd like a lion of a preacher, mixing personality (“if I had some ‘Cris and Moet I’d be poppin’ it / Man you know it’s bumpin’ but you hatin’ so you knockin’ it”) with holy calls to get the dance floor wild. It’s a fusion of drunken free will, the poverty war, and the human record running alongside a redeeming wall of hi-hats and capsizing synths. His voice seems on the edge of ripping itself in two, like he’s still too young for this fire, too young to have optimism so grizzled. In essence, it’s a simultaneous embrace of all the contradictions, passion and pure appeal that’s made ‘southern rap,’ whatever the hell that means anymore, so damn alluring to outsiders.

Light a candle to curse the darkness I guess, but as much as I try, I know that this whole thing is split like a quasi-played game of Scrabble. It’s firing off analog crunk in pieces but mostly (and truly) stuck in its own half-assed execution.


Reviewed by: Evan McGarvey
Reviewed on: 2005-07-28
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