Here’s what’s on the table with Gunz N’ Butta, the new mixtape from Cam’ron and Vado: Cam’ron, six years removed from his last best shot at stardom, smirking and plucking the lowest hanging lyrical fruit available. His latest protégé, a scrawny, slightly bummy-looking dude with an unfortunate fondness for denim suits, barking himself hoarse. (His name, by the way, is apparently an acronym for “Violence and Drugs Only”-an admirably principled stand.) And beats by Araabmusik, a Harlem producer whose signature technique involves making his MPC explode over and over again until things resemble a Michael Bay movie. It doesn’t get much deeper than that, so at this point, you’ve probably decided whether to back slowly away or rejoice like it’s Rap Nerd Christmas.
If you’re still here, welcome. The good news: this is the most entertaining thing Killa has been associated with in years. On an album littered with enough obscenities to script multiple Farrelly Brothers movies, the only real four-letter word is “ambition.” Cam is relaxed, enjoying himself, and evidently not at all concerned that punchlines like “peanut-butter-ass n*gga/damn, skippy” don’t make even a bit of sense. Vado, meanwhile, has grown in leaps and bounds: when Cam brought him onstage at his Crime Pays album-release concert in 2009, he was painfully unready, so committed to conveying the absolute hardbodiedness of his unbelievably hardbodied lyrics that he often forget to hold the microphone in front of his mouth. The rapper he is now shows no signs of that tentative insecurity: he’s obviously spent some time studying at the Jim Jones School of Hilariously Exaggerated Bluster. Like Jones, his default delivery is a kind of semi-herniated, Foghorn Leghorn-style bellow. Unlike Jones, he has a crisp rhythmic control and an actual sense of where and how words slot together. He is unfailingly vivid, and his ear for sticky chanted hooks is deadly.
The good news, sadly, is also the bad news. There’s just nothing at stake at all on Gunz N’ Butta, and the experience grows a little deflating. Between 2003 and 2005, Cam could be counted on to repeatedly and calmly blow your mind. These days, the pleasures he offers are a bit cheaper: “Now I’m shavin’ coke/On a amazing boat/’Fuck you, suck dick,’ I don’t know what to say to folks,” he cracks on “American Greed.” And then there’s disheartening stuff like “Your wife? I might piss on her/Christen her/Yeah, that’s how a wizard whizz on ya,” from “Monster Musik.” At this stage in his career, Cam is starting to resemble the wisecracking older kid in the back of study hall. At one point, he was the coolest kid you knew. And then it dawned on you that he was repeating the 10th grade for the fourth time.