November 10, 2010

Beanie Sigel - The Truth (February 29, 2000)

I figured this would be a nice way to complement the Freeway write-up from a few days ago, and a nice break for me before I ease into my brief bit of stunt-blogging this Saturday.  (Tell your friends!)

Beanie Sigel, who answers to Dwight Grant whenever it's time to participate in the office's Secret Santa pool, is a rapper and actor (okay, mostly a rapper) who has sold more than two million albums worldwide.  But let's play to the cheap seats for a minute.  If you're not a fan of Jay-Z, his former friend and boss at Roc-A-Fella Records, then odds are that you have no clue who the fuck this guy is.  Maybe you heard a single verse of his if you follow the career of his Philadelphia peers The Roots: he made what was essentially his mainstream debut on their track "Adrenaline!", from Things Fall Apart.  Actually, it's probably not fair to refer to The Roots as Beanie Sigel's "peers", as that is pretty fucking insulting to Jimmy Fallon's house band.  So let's dig a bit deeper.

Sigel, who also goes by the rap monikers Beanie Mac, Mac Mittens, Beans, Beans Enrice, Mac Man, the Broad Street Bully, and Steve, is a South Philly native who rhymes infrequently in between stints in prison for such varying offenses as weapons charges and, most recently, allegations of committing tax fraud.  After struggling as a starving artist for approximately five minutes, he found himself signed to Roc-A-Fella Records after impressing Jay-Z and Damon Dash, filling in the third position in Hova's loose-knit crew The Dynasty while establishing his own merry band of weed carriers, State Property (which also included Freeway), who were apparently nice enough to have not just one, but two movies named after them. 

While Sigel was biding his time, he filled his days by recording cameos for both his Roc-A-Fella labelmates and some other artists from his hometown, most notably Philly's Most Wanted, a Neptunes charity case that nevertheless somehow snagged a minor hit single (and a guest spot from motherfucking Black Thought on their sophomore album, and that guy hardly ever ventures out of his own family).  In 2000, he released his debut solo album, The Truth, on a day that doesn't usually fucking exist, so clearly the stars were aligned for him and not female Dynasty member Amil, whose own solo album was released that fall and swiftly disappeared from the public consciousness.  With the help of his famous friends and some production assistance from such big names as Bink, Buckwild, Just Blaze, and Kanye West, hip hop's equivalent to Madonna/Gaga-as-jam-band, he managed to sell over seven hundred thousand copies, guaranteeing that he wouldn't be forced to take on a regular job for at least three weeks.

These days, Beanie Mac is best known as being the guy who hates his former boss Jay-Z for...actually, I'm not entirely sure why he hates Shawn so goddamn much.  Maybe it was a financial matter, or maybe it was more of a business thing (although Sigel was the only Roc-A-Fella team member to actually swing a guest verse on Jay's American Gangster project), but either way, Sigel hates hates hates his fucking guts, and he uses up any available moment to let the world know by unleashing piss-poor freestyles aimed at his former BFF.  (He apparently doesn't like Kanye either, which is pretty stupid: when's the last time 'Ye dissed anybody?)  So it's interesting to hear The Truth ten years out, when you know that the suppressed optimism expressed on his debut would soon turn sour with time.

Ladies and gentlemen, the truth about The Truth.  (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

The Truth kicks off with a Kanye West-produced title track that bangs. Beans lays out his mission statement for all to hear, without hiding behind a rap album intro or a guest star, which would have diluted the message. Sigel delivers his words and threats with force, wishing harm upon his enemies while feeling sorry for the collateral damage, bragging about how he didn't even have to work very hard to earn his expertise behind the mic because he's just that great (self-taught!). It's a risky gamble to have someone who is a relatively new artist claim to be the greatest...oh, who the fuck am I kidding? Every single rapper in existence thinks he's better than everyone else. Regardless, the song is actually really good. Not a bad way to start.

Beans shows an incredible amount of restraint by not simply getting his label's boss to guest star right away, choosing to ease into the eventual cameo by collaborating with Memphis Bleek instead, because that somehow makes sense. On here, two-thirds of the Roc-A-Fella Dynasty (because Amil doesn't count, and Freeway was never officially part of that clique) play off of one of Malik's bars from Hova's “Change The Game” by building a song around it, never really explaining what the “what” in the title is supposed to entail. Just Blaze's instrumental is rap music at its most bland, and Bleek drags Beans down into the Roc-A-Fella doldrums with him, with no hope of escape. Beanie Mac deserves better.

This isn't better. Sigel takes three tracks on his debut album to get to what everyone wanted to hear in the first place: an appearance by Jay-Z. The title is absolutely original: never before in hip hop had anyone compared their song to a brick of cocaine, and that metaphor, as you two are aware, has never been used in hip hop since. Bink's beat sounds like a store brand impression of a Hova original, and neither artists sounds fully comfortable. Beans jokes at the beginning that he has to tell people that he doesn't know Jigga just so they will leave him alone: “Raw & Uncut” inadvertently sounds like the first time these two have ever made contact. Not the greatest of signs.

This track is kind of corny, but at the same time, it is the most entertainingly goofy that Beanie Sigel has ever been behind the mic. Beans uses Shim's Ms. Pac Man-sampling instrumental to run through a goofy tale, replacing his cohorts in the drug game with golden age video game characters such as Donkey Kong and Frogger, and enough attention to detail is paid that it's obvious that these are the games that he (and a lot of my readers, I'm guessing) grew up with. Beanie wins on the strength of his Dig Dug reference alone: luckily, the rest if the song is also pretty good. It's too bad that Sigel doesn't remember how to have fun in the booth these days.

The chorus makes me want to give up on this blog and start writing about death metal instead. At least those artists probably wouldn't overuse the word “playa”. When you take away the terrible hook, the annoying T-Mix beat, and Amil's atrocious performance, what you're left with is a Beanie Sigel and Shawn Carter collaboration that doesn't entirely suck: it helps that each one seems to have no idea that the other person even appears on the song. I want my three minutes and twenty-five seconds back, Beans.

Sigel uses this solo effort as an attempt to discourage other young upstart rappers from following their dreams, unless they're willing to so so without compromising their ideals. He may say that he's just trying to help warn them of the perils of changing who you are in exchange for stardom, but I'm jaded, so I choose to believe that he simply doesn't want the competition. That said, I'm not so jaded that I didn't appreciate the song itself, which is entertaining without being preachy. Not bad, Beans.

Beans recruits fellow Philadelphia rapper Eve for this meditation on growing up poor, which was also a single. I didn't care for the Lofey beat, but I enjoyed Sigel's three verses, even though his praise of Hova now sounds both dated and inaccurate. Even though Eve only provides the hook, it still led me to thinking: why hasn't Beanie gotten The Roots to appear on one of his albums yet? Did they have a falling-out or something? You would think that Sigel would want to thank them for “Adrenaline!”.

This sounds like a bad Jay-Z song, especially with the plodding Rockwilder instrumental with the crappy sound bite enveloped within. Also, the title is fucking atrocious. Sigel delivers what sounds like a natural progression of his guest verse on Hov's “Do It Again” (also produced by Rockwilder), and honestly, who wanted to hear that shit? Nothing of any importance is provided by this throwaway track, which may only exist because Def Jam executives like to include horrendous attempts at club bangers on nearly all of their releases. No, seriously. Check out their back catalog. It's okay: I can wait.

And welcome back. See what I mean? Anyway, Scarface (from the Geto Boys) makes a pitch-perfect cameo alongside Beanie Sigel, one of the few rappers in the industry that actually sounds comfortable alongside him. This is more of a five-minute bullshitting session than an actual song. Sigel and his honored guest pass the mic back and forth, with both men proclaiming their dominance over the rap game (and, ostensibly, each other). The J-5 beat was pretty plain, but other than that, and the fact that the song fades out before Face finishes his final verse (why, God, why?!?!?!), this wasn't terrible.

Buckwild's beat is monotony at its worst, but while Sigel does his damnedest to salvage the track, he crumbles under the weight of that particular obligation. The end result is tired thug rap, classified as such because of the helpful use of the word “thug” in the song's title, that never rises above the level of a cliché. Which ultimately means that there are probably tons of motherfuckers out there who will claim this as their most favoritest Beanie Sigel song ever.

This Shim-helmed endeavor is actually dramatic as fuck. Sigel digs deep into his bag of tricks, detailing prison life in such a depressing manner that he may pull off what most mass media has failed at: convincing young folks that no, they actually don't want to go to jail, because shit is fucked up, son. The musical flourishes during the hook made me think that a major motion picture is about to begin (thanks to its dramatic intensity and the fact that it reminds me of a Touchstone Pictures or an older New Line Cinema bumper), and that shouldn't be seen as a negative. Nice!

12. RIDE 4 MY

13. DIE
Sigel ends The Truth obsessed with death, detailing the many many ways that he could meet his maker. This Prestige (late of Puffy's Hitmen) track is gimmicky, but Beans manages to make his point, rendering this song one of the more morbid ways to end a commercially released rap album. But hey, kudos to Beanie Sigel for recording the dark album he wanted, as opposed to caving in to most of the label's requests. (Yes, there are one or two club efforts on The Truth, but you can count the number of love raps with no hands. Apparently, Beanie Sigel is a monster who doesn't believe that he deserves compassion.)

The Truth ends with a bonus track that has nothing to do with the rest of the album, or even with the artist who wrote the fucking album.

“Anything”, the Oliver-sampling curio that was originally an international bonus track on Vol. 3...Life and Times Of S. Carter, finds itself tacked onto Sigel's debut album as a way of hopefully moving more units than originally projected, even though this is a Jay-Z solo song and Beanie Mac is nowhere to be found. (With hip hop blogs being as prevalent as they are today, this sales tactic would never work in 2010.) Perhaps turned off by the fact that “Anything” sounds almost exactly like Hova's earlier “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”, this song, produced by P. Skam and Sam Sneed (now there's a name I haven't seen in a while) fucking tanked on both radio and on MTV/BET, causing this to be the rare failure in Jay's catalog. Considering that this song, which isn't entirely awful, but may contain too many positive messages to win over Sigel's fans, doesn't fit in with the rest of The Truth, maybe its failure was a foregone conclusion. Regardless, it was an unnecessary way to end the album. Have more faith in the product you're selling, Hova.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Beanie Sigel makes some expected rookie errors, and he uses his famous boss as a crutch a bit more than he should (although, to be fair, one of those particular instances was actually forced upon him by Jay-Z and the label, so “Anything” isn't his fault), but his debut album, The Truth, is actually pretty good. Sigel uses the fact that nobody really knew what to expect from him as a personal challenge, serving up thirteen tracks that mostly consist of dreary reality, dark humor, and only the occasional excursion into bullshittery. For an album that features fourteen songs (don't forget about Jay's solo shot) without skits, and includes musical backing from nearly as many producers, The Truth sounds surprisingly cohesive, but it helps that our host refused to dilute his message for the masses. Simply put, Beanie Sigel is a more formidable artist than Memphis Bleek could ever aspire to be. So of course Hova stuck by Bleek's side when The Dynasty fell apart: he might have felt threatened.

BUY OR BURN? Go ahead and pick this one up. Fans of raw street rhymes will enjoy this, and the lack of any functional club bangers is only a plus. This was an entertaining diversion.

BEST TRACKS: “What Your Life Like”; “Mac Man”; “Mac and Brad”; “Everybody Wanna Be A Star”; “The Truth”



  1. Never been into Beanie Sigel but might as well give him a proper listen specially since there's Scarface in this album too.

    Max, most of us are dying to see a write-up for Brad by you!

  2. good review, this album is pretty underrated imo but im a big jay fan

    review the new kid cudi album "Man on the Moon II"

  3. The Reason was a fair amount better than this, I thought. . .he should have handed more of the album to Just Blaze and Kanye West, although to be fair Jay was probably keeping those beats in a locked warehouse with an electrified fence.

    This guy needs to just link up with Face and do an album with his production team.

  4. "Actually, it's probably not fair to refer to The Roots as Beanie Sigel's "peers", as that is pretty fucking insulting to Jimmy Fallon's house band."
    Huh? I don't get this joke.
    Nice review though, Max. Makes me want to go listen to this album again, which I haven't done in a long time.
    Looking forward for what you have to say about The Reason and The B.Coming.
    Even though you're probably already sick of every damn commenter telling you what you should review, I would love to see what you think of Waka Flocka Flame's album, Flockaveli. It has some good joints.
    You probably reply like "You're on the wrong blog", but no, really.

  5. Funkcrusher PlusNovember 17, 2010

    The Truth is an amazing song!
    After listening to that it definitely encourages me to listen to the whole album! Thanks for the review!