When you buy a guest rapper you rent an image. So when Jenny came from the Block, she kept it real with Jadakiss’s crew the Lox. But she coulda brought the D-Block or the Ruff Ryders, coz Jadakiss collects posses like his girls keep jewelry. Better, he collects his posses like punchlines—not as his purpose, but just as a side effect. His image bricolage assembles things that are rap: neither funny nor scary nor real when viewed straight on, but spit with a gruff authority that projects uproarious menace when viewed from the corner of the ear.
The Lox got their break signing as Puff Daddy’s token of authenticity (which doesn’t make their authenticity any more tokenistic, or street publicity any less fetishistic) and got their second break campaigning for “freedom” from said contract—but was it the flashy style that got them down or the poor payout? Ask Jada and they’re probably the same thing.
So: still commercial rap then, whether on Bad Boy or later Ruff Ryders, but really good at it. Whatever the beat, whatever the tempo, Jada wants you to kneel with a gun to your temple. Like his message is intense though his rhymes are simple. Moving the units and stories to his kinfolk. So he says he keeps things real, like explaining that people is lonely and they need company coz they miserable. So a gun is real—you can sell that. And a crack rock. And now, “emotional depth” is real and you can sell that too (unless you’re Joe Budden). “Why I can’t come through in the pecan Jag?/Why did crack have to hit so hard?” Gee, Jada, they’re both important questions, and I dunno, but you sound real deep, maaan.
Old-skool is real too—like, hardcore critics-love-that-shit real. Kiss of Death‘s title track pushes things forward with chunky post-grindin’ stutter-funk, but meanwhile Pharrell brings the ’70s groove on “Hot Sauce to Go,” “Shine” is as close to Snoop Dogg rhyming over the “Good Times” beat as we’ll get, and on “Gettin’ It In,” Kanye rocks that discofied George of the Jungle bongo counter-beat that hip-hop all but forgot. Speaking of which, “Real Hip Hop” with two-thirds of the Lox turns Swizz’s Teflon clockwork into primo fanfare, and “Shoot Outs” with a different two-thirds is a clamoring mix-tape noise-wall of Terminator X-ish sonic brutalism.
Do I sound cynical? Sorry. I mean, this stuff sells for a reason, like Jada sez: “shit don’t just don’t happen, shit happen for a reason,” and we know he’s living fulla meaning. See, the man made his image with purpose, and remade it to go for the ring. Just like he kept up his street rep with four D-Block mix tapes, some battles with G-Unit, and innumerable guest slots in the past few years. His story to tell is that he knows how to sell, and in that rhythmic enterprise, even listening is a cut of vicarious participation. Like he sez on “Welcome to D-Block,” “We don’t play with the lizards, we make phrases up and say ’em exquisite.”
Two-thirds through the new album, everything collapses on itself in the haunting “By Your Side.” Monotone synth heartbeats and answer-back diva vocals (Heatmakerz-style) murmur behind the impressionistic narrative. First Jada’s at your side as a friend, then a threat. Then you better have a strong team by your side, then your moms at the hospital by your side, then those who want your cash tryina get there, then your cash itself you should keep there, then he’s dead and his girl’s gotta keep his little man by her side. Images and stories slide through view like a high-concept video; midway in, the beats pile onto one another, the vocals layer and accelerate, then Jada lets loose with an exuberant laugh. It’s soulful, it’s hard, it’s real, and then . . . it’s transcendent. Throw your hands in the air if you sling crack rocks. A wop bop a loo bop a pop pop a glock.