evenge wore no wristwatch for Chamillionaire. When a Scott Storch-helmed single went belly-up, it looked like he'd be the tipping point of diminishing commercial returns for a Houston scene he claimed he had nothing to do with, but "Ridin'" became the biggest hit mostly because it had nothing to do with regional fetish, and to the victor went the spoils: platinum sales, a Grammy Award, an actual sophomore release when it looks like Slim Thug and Mike Jones' next records will be available in stores that sell Detox, and of course, a Weird Al parody. But none of that changes the fact that Sound of Revenge fell short the same way Jadakiss records do: though Koopa has punchlines for days and skills that dwarf most of his peers, his major label debut hedged its bets like it was abiding by some archaic hip-hop album to-do list. This didn't work towards the strengths of someone who made a small fortune on mostly enjoyable and clever mixtapes almost entirely about cars and money.
He didn't play the upper hand when he had it, so what happens now that Ultimate Victory is an "event release" from a superstar rapper? Thankfully, not all that much. Most of the guest list consists of people who would've shown up anyway, and the Kelis-assisted "Criminal" isn't around to remind us how much of a dud it was. Though less crotchety than last time, Ultimate Victory still mostly plays off the duality of Chamillionaire's name: he's rich and he's moody.
Moreso than his dexterous verbal ability, Cham's greatest asset these days is his ability to play both sides of the fence. He posits himself as an alternative to "dumbed down rap" (to quote a recent Source cover), offering well-meaning but clumsy social commentary and an easy-to-swallow positivity manifesting itself in hustle raps that thankfully don't play into trap star nihilism or knitted-hat preachiness. In Chamillionaire's eyes, the only thing worse than being broke is staying broke and making excuses for it. But his political awakening doesn't exactly augur the arrival of the new Ice Cube so much as some of the most misguided pontificating since the glory days of Dead Prez. "Morning News" and "Evening News" are bitch sessions worthy of Andy Rooney, attempting to tackle two years worth of retread TV news mag talking points (Bill O'Reilly, Al Sharpton, yet another murky attempt to parse the Don Imus fracas), with little remotely resembling a well-reasoned argument.
He glibly revives the image of George Bush playing golf from Geto Boys' "Fuck a War," but it only serves to show how a track that came out in 1990 still manages to be the most cogent take on the current situation in the Middle East. And once he laments that "OJ was named innocent / He got no sentence / He's still alive / It's verrry ironic / That the lawyer that defended him / Had to die," you wonder how seriously you can take someone as a truth speaker when they're beefing with a 67-year old man's death from brain cancer as if it was a sacrifice he made for his client.
On the other side of the fence, there's his tendency to play into his inferiority complex by considering himself part of the problem, insisting that he's still judged amongst the Lil's and the Young's even though you'll find more people on the XXL board clowning Tum Tum's haircut than Cham's rhyming. "Welcome to the South" bristles with righteous indignation (respecting southern rappers getting money is the new "he's so well spoken") and "Standing Ovation" dismisses all haters not as jealous, but lazy (the most damning character flaw in Cham's world).
In fact when he's at his most flippantly defensive against actual people instead of talking heads, Ultimate Victory improbably plays out like Kool Keith's Black Elvis/Lost In Space updated with the Shop Boyz as a touchstone, something that becomes abundantly clear when Cham announces that he and Lil' Wayne are "the new Red Hot Chili Peppers" on the self-explanatory "Rock Star." To translate, your enjoyment of this record is strictly based on your ability to stick with him as he riffs on the inferiority of any rapper who isn't him and the stupidity of spending beyond your financial means (see the bizarrely literal "Da Bill Collector"). Let your mind go, and you'll hear Keith in the dorky extravagant travelogue of "Ultimate Vacation" or the cycle of hilarious name-drops on "Industry Groupie," which samples "The Final Countdown" and ends up sounding suspiciously like "Down Bottom."
As to be expected, Ultimate Victory ends up suffering from all the usual trappings of way-too-long rap records; there are plenty of "My Money Gets Jealous" redundancies, "Rock Star" is an already dated time capsule of 2007 rap's prevailing trends (reheated Blizzard Of Ozz riffs, Lil' Wayne cameos), and "Pimp Mode"'s sizzurp cruise is about as tiring as the three-minute skit. Ultimate Victory may find Chamillionaire a little confused about his strengths, but in terms of establishing him as someone whose heart's in the right place, it does its title proud. And unlike The Sound of Revenge, it does so right now.