What The Game’s Been Missing!
’ll start with a confession: Juelz Santana had a long road to walk before he even got a ounce of credit from me. Playing the wild-eyed Robin to Cam’ron’s isolated and self-convinced Batman, Santana has a long history of jumping into verses with a “Dipset, bitch!” and proceeding to rhyme his last name with “hammer” and “bandana.”
His early years (he’s been around the block, don’t put that much money in his summer camp-fresh face), were unremarkable to abysmal. See his previous LP From Me To U for examples on how to mangle verses.
As Cam’ron has moved further and further away from the Roc-A-Jam hegemony of New York rap, his once eager protégé has actually slithered towards the spotlight, dually marketing the Dipset label like the peripheral cult it is and jumping onto guest appearances with Usher-lites (Chris Brown). He’s obviously a man-child in flux.
One moment he goofs off like a lean young Ludacris, another, like What The Game’s Been Missing!’s “Lil’ Boy Fresh” shows explorations in narrative, perspective, and morality. I’ll be damned, Santana may have just found nuance.
I’ll be damned again. Def Jam finally gives him a legitimate push, longtime producers The Heatmakerz scrounge up some wild samples (the classic Marvelette jam “Please Mr. Postman” becomes “Oh Yeah”) and Santana sounds significantly more adept while rapping in almost exactly the same style.
For a rap record released this close to the holidays, where LP’s are usually akin to a debutante’s coming out ball, Missing! doesn’t alter the playbook. It’s a distended medley of uproars, asinine taunts, genuine skill, charm, and self-indulgence.
He locates himself, “on the corner / Pumpin’ like a pump’ll do.” He sings his hooks, “Murder murder m-m-murda m-m-murda ‘em!” He still acts like the most dangerous man in the free world while weighing in at 165 dripping wet.
“Rumble Young Man Rumble” is a chestnut of Def Jam sound: the young guy, sweltering in his own buzz, hammers at the audience about his life, his skill, and, of course, his destiny. The suitably melodramatic guitar slashes move alongside quick opera shouts as Santana gets a few giggles and knowing claps for his lines: “Straight from the ground y'all dig? / Close to where the groundhogs live.”
I’m becoming begrudgingly attracted to Santana’s giddy, self-effacing lines, and more importantly, most of the time the lines are pretty good. Halting, ungainly and deliberate as his hail-storm flow may be, Santana can straddle the comedic/brutal line with wonderful grace. On the simply titled “Violence”: “They hand you the snub / Dismantle your mug / A headshot have you looking like you shampoo with blood.”
Taken with a silo of salt, Santana and Missing! are pretty effective in their absurd, fun house exercises. The Heatmakerz dice loops into morsels of horns and bass bite-size enough for Santana to hack away at.
At the end of the album’s 22 overflowing tracks, Santana is happy to remind us again why he’s just so awesome, coughing up non-sequitors on the regal “Mic Check”: “Ha-choo!, I just sneezed and the track moved, ha-choo! / God blessed me, yes that's true / So bright, throw lights up for me / For life married the game, throw rice up for me.”
Blissful moments like those are spaced out on Missing!, but each moment is nothing but Santana. No Cam. No corporate shadow of Jigga. No purple furs. He says we’re all supposed to fear him. I may be weirded out sometimes, but now I just want to hang out with him. That’s got to count for something.