With the improbable, unstoppable, almost preposterous success of “Slow Jamz”—that spilling-over slice of luscious meta-hip-hop-soul that recently took over Hot 97 and TRL simultaneously—it’d be easy to think of young-buck prep-hop producer Kanye West as a superhero. Kanye himself would certainly be chuffed if you thought so, but the truth is something closer to benefactor, redeemer, and aide to the underprivileged.
In the context of Kanye’s recent album College Dropout—for which the song was originally intended—”Slow Jamz” makes perfect sense. Like many of the tracks on the record, it’s a low-concept song audaciously executed. Kanye raps slow, so they get someone who raps fast—Twista—to fill out the song’s narrative arc. And for the hook, we’ll get Jamie Foxx! Wait, Jamie Foxx? On paper, there’s no reason this car crash should work, but Kanye’s keen ear for melody and near perfect sample selection mean everything else is mere decoration. Twista is no less jarring a choice than, say, Fabolous would be.
And so even though it’s early in the year, the Chicago rapper’s Christmas shopping list is doubtless already set. Before “Slow Jamz,” Twista was a regional star with friends in high places and sales on slow simmer. Now he’s having to clean up his fast-faster-fastest verse for his a.m. stint with Regis and Kelly. All this for what is essentially a guest verse on someone else’s record; in the video, he’s on-screen for less than a second before Kanye comes in. And, predictably, there’s now a chill in what was once a friendly relationship.
But why should Twista be the recipient of so many blessings and the subsequent resentment that comes with them? The onetime Fastest Rapper Alive’s second album, 1997’s Adrenaline Rush, is something of an unsung classic. But what’s kept Twista’s dream alive all these years is the same thing that’s kick-started his newfound relevance: the guest spot. In recent years, Twista’s been called on by damn near everyone: P. Diddy, Timbaland, Ludacris, Jay-Z (there’s even an ongoing quibble between Twista’s label, Atlantic, and Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, who’ve been trying to kidnap him for over a year).
But hot 16s do not an album make, and for the most part Kamikaze is no “Slow Jamz,” no “Poppin’ Tags,” no “Is That Your Bitch?” Produced mostly by local boy Toxic, Twista’s third proper album—in the past few years, he’s also released a label comp and a crew album—suggests nothing so much as Adrenaline Rush part two. “Still Feels So Good” updates Rush‘s “It Feels So Good,” but the original still packs more punch. “Kill Us All” is particularly anachronistic, borrowing the whiny synths from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s breakout “Thuggish Ruggish Bone.”
Even though Twista raps rapidly, his subject matter is far slower on the evolutionary uptake. Expensive cars, women of loose morals, wanton drizzle of designer names—these are topics from rap’s pre-parodic era of the mid-to-late ’90s, back when thugs were getting their first taste of the flush life. Twista raps like this stuff might disappear any day—and indeed it might—but hip-hop’s self-confidence is such that his competition long ago began taking these spoils of success for granted.
All he’s got left is flow—a vocal style more percussive than melodic. Without the beats to accentuate his positive, his spitting patter gets monotonous quick. (Even to himself, it seems: He uses the word follicle in two different songs, almost certainly a hip-hop first.) His best moment, not surprisingly, comes when he’s tuning his second fiddle. On “Art & Life (Chi-Roc),” Twista bats cleanup after potential future labelmates Young Chris, Memphis Bleek, and Freeway: “Twista will rock you/You don’t want the thug apostle to pop you/Hostile when I drop you/Turning everything colossal to fossils.” But by this point—the last verse on the last song—the great West-periment in star-making is a failed one, and Twista’s thumbed his way back to the indigent ward, awaiting the next charitable contribution.