By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
By Harley Oliver Brown
Jadakiss isn't normally considered as a candidate for the Rappers You Wanna Be Loved By list. A sneering, venom-spitting leftover from the mid-'90s—when rappers snarled at one another like teenage snakes—the Yonkers native struts the stage with what may be the most sinister larynx in the whole of show business. Even though tristate hip-hop is known for its raps, not its rasps, Jadakiss endures, cooing at a nation with the phlegm-drenched New Yawk drawl of a club-alley ex-pusher, punctuated by the cackle of a cigar-smoking crocodile.
Jada's hiss is the kind of noise you'd expect to emanate from a dumpster during the first five minutes of a Law & Order rerun. Instead, it comes out of a rapper as technically taut as you'd hope to hear in our 140-letters-a-thought moment. Nearly every carefully posed polysyllabic threat highlights his skill; his internal rhymes pack all the purposeful precision of a surgical incision, as he clicks whole rhyming paragraphs together like dominoes.
His veteran status comes not just from his expertise, his two decades in the field, or the inner steel from having survived the great rap industry purges (the rise of the South, the fall of the compact disc). He also possesses a numbness to violence with verses that speak of bloodstained frenzies, and are recited dispassionately by an ex-goon who studied under Biggie Smalls, but chuckled less. He writes from a dark corner where stabbings come before and after quarter-century jail sentences, and dissects each tragedy with chilling brevity.
Which brings us to the 36-year-old's fourth solo record, a preposterous half-hour fan-appreciation gesture tenderly titled I Love You. It is consistently funny, though not consistently fun. Meant as a stopgap release to sustain interest in Top Five Dead or Alive, an album that's been clogged in some industry pipeline for months now, the project comes off as somewhat parodic; there's an Uncle Fester feel as Jadakiss—cocaine strategist, troll—bares the heart you're never sure he has.
The album starts with the intro: "To show my gratitude and appreciation, I just wanted to let you know I love you," he offers, punctuating his gratitude with what will be just one of at least four kiss noises on the record. His lips will later smack on the sentence-ends of some of the most felonious utterances you'd ever wanna get smooched after.
And it continues with "In the Streets," a soap-opera-like cut from the Ghetto Gospel template. "My heart's beating, but I'm still out here, lifeless," he says as a wah-wah pedal bawls. The track finds its obvious conclusion with a nod to Jada's "man-ses, out there taking penitentiary chances. What. I love you."
I Love You is a bromance record, even when it isn't. While in flirt mode, Jada says the sorts of things one would typically put across to a fellow con. On "How I Feel," he salutes a girl who gives good dap: "We got our own special handshake—[kiss noise!]—and she knows how I like my pancakes," he garbles, but not before adding: "I feel so beautiful."
Let him feel gorgeous; just don't let him around your son. "You can get further in life by using manners," Uncle Fester counsels on "Lil Bruh" before immediately recommending that kids convert their grandmother's residence into a crack warehouse. "You can never feel love without knowing the pain," he laments, while trumpets pay homage to some really sinister advice—"Make saving one of your habits/Never keep the razors and plates under the cabinets," for example.
"We all die. The point is to avoid prison," he muses on "Toast to That," expounding as brutal a life strategy as you'd predict from a thug analyst who raps as if ducking jail is an existential angle. And then he explains tactics on steering clear of jail—he touches on gang hierarchy, Fifth Amendment rights, where and when to put a bullet. But what's horrifying is how he seals it all: with a kiss. Mwah.