As it has been foretold at each year's passing, the major labels in the music industry tend to unleash product during the final month of the year that are best described as "tax write-offs". As all major labels are essentially giant fucking corporations, and this is America, they are not very pleased with the idea of spending any additional money on goods and services that they can very easily unload onto the public with a minimum of effort. Rushing albums for release in December of each year allows the bookkeepers to remove line items that will not have to carry over into the start of the new fiscal year, and they also get the additional bonus of appearing to be artist-centric, as opposed to seeking out profits with each new project.
Redman's Reggie, his seventh solo album, will most certainly not make Def Jam any fucking money, so its surprising appearance on store shelves (after a nine-month delay and a title swap, adjusted from the more confusing Reggie Noble "0" 9 1/2 to what you're looking at now) can only be attributed to the label's incessant need to appear more hip hop friendly than it truly is these days, with its attempt to appeal to the older heads who grew up when the label was The House That Russell Built. (Upcoming albums from Sheek Louch and Ghostface Killah also help further this theory.)
Tax write-off status aside, Reggie is unique within Redman's overall body of work, in that he has claimed in interviews that he is not the actual performer on here: instead, an alter-ego named Reggie is handling all mic duties. Three years after his last solo effort, Red Gone Wild: Thee Album (and one year after dropping Blackout! 2 with his smoking buddy Method Man), Reggie Noble apparently decided that what he really wanted to do was release an album full of "pop"-type songs, those more likely to be heard in the club rather than exclusively within the earbuds of your friendly neighborhood backpacker. This was a conscious decision, though: Redman has admitted that he was going for a much "bigger" sound, and probably attributes all of the adjustments to the Reggie alter-ego, so that his hardcore fans can simply sidestep this entry in his catalog and move along.
With this change comes a tidal wave of red ink, as Reggie edited the fuck out of his traditional blueprint to fit his new "character" (which, coincidentally, sounds exactly like him in every single way possible, but that was to be expected). On Reggie, gone are the obligatory appearances by his fellow Def Squad members Erick Sermon and Keith Murray: hell, Reggie is Redman's first album to not feature any production from E-Double, and if I remember correctly (since I'm writing this after having listened to the disc), he doesn't promote that particular crew at all. Instead, he brings in his Gilla House merry band of weed carriers, who have co-starred with him on two Ill At Will mixtapes (the first two, the ones that actually star Redman, not the ones drafted by other artists to talk shit about him) and on Red Gone Wild: Thee Album, along with some odd, out-of-place guests like Bun B, Faith Evans, and Kool Moe Dee. And, naturally, Method Man makes his mandatory cameo, since Reggie Noble appears to feel more of a kinship with the Wu-Tang Clan then the guys who were actually around when his career began. But I'm probably reading into things too deeply, and I'm sure Keith Murray will crawl up from under his rock and deliver a guest verse on whatever ends up being Reggie's follow-up.
In addition, Redman chopped all of the filler from Reggie, so this project ends up being the very first one in the man's catalog to not feature any skits whatsoever. He also fired all of the recurring characters: Reggie features no introduction from Dr. Trevis, nor is there another chapter in the ongoing saga of Soopaman Luva. All we are left with is a tightly-paced thirteen tracks consisting of actual songs, with mostly no-name production (which isn't always a bad thing) laying a foundation for "Reggie" to attempt to decimate.
Unsurprisingly, Def Jam Records failed to do any sort of real promotional push for Reggie, leaving the artist to do everything himself, even forcing him to record and release his own music videos. Since this album was supposed to originally drop in the first quarter of 2010 (it was promised, along with a new Method Man solo effort, in the booklet of Blackout! 2), Redman tested the waters by unleashing a slew of new music, including tracks such as "Coc Back", which was originally intended to be the first single, but ended up on the cutting room floor. The deleted tracks wound up on both a Reggie-endorsed DJ Rake mixtape, which is confusingly also entitled Reggie, and the self-released Pancake N Syrup mixtape, which hit the Interweb mere days before Reggie found its way to store shelves.
So at least we can't say that Reggie Noble isn't a hard worker.
1. REGGIE (INTRO)
Here lies proof that Reggie won't be your average Redman album: instead of enlisting his Dr. Trevis persona to introduce the project, Redman elects to spit a verse instead. Which is pretty goddamn good: the way it pairs up with this instrumental from The Futuristiks (with Team Ready getting a co-production credit), which reminds me of De La Soul's “Stakes Is High” (thanks to the use of the same Ahmad Jamal “Swahililand” source material that De La used), is fucking electric. And then Reggie starts to sing, via Shawn Carter's arch-nemesis, Auto-Tune. Truthfully, he doesn't sound any worse than every other rapper who has secretly harbored dreams of becoming an R&B singer, but it still throws the listener for a loop.
2. THAT'S WHERE I B (FEAT. DJ KOOL)
That's how the title reads in the liner notes and on the disc itself, so that's what I'm going with, regardless of what it says on the back cover. On here, Reggie recruits his “Let's Get Dirty” co-star DJ Kool (of “Let Me Clear My Throat” fame – that shit still bangs today, by the way) and verbally dismantles the surprisingly effective club-ready Ty Fyffe beat. Our host refers to himself as a “'70s baby” on here, which may automatically cause my younger readers to look away in disgust, since Reggie Noble is probably the kind of guy who spins tales to his nephews and nieces about how gas prices used to be incredibly low and how he used to walk to school barefoot in the snow, backwards, twenty miles uphill each way, but I urge you to give this song a spin anyway. Redman has the unnatural ability to sound at home over nearly any type of beat imaginable: “That's Where I B” is no different.
3. DEF JAMMABLE
Although this song, Reggie's first single, has been floating around on other hip hop blogs for several months now, I've never actually listened to it until today. (I'll explain why later.) The title is kind of amusing the first time you read it, but it stirs up memories of how badly Def Jam Records has fouled up the marketing of just about every single Redman project post-Doc's Da Name 2000 (including Reggie, which you wouldn't even know was released this week had it not been for Redman's own street team promoting it on your favorite blogs). This song is only alright, though: DJ Khalil's beat is fairly boring, and Reggie's bars, some of which worked fairly well and some of which sound as though they were performed on autopilot, couldn't do much to salvage it. Auto-Tune makes a return appearance on here, as well, when the Funk Doc croons the chorus. This was the first disappointment on Reggie thus far.
4. FULL NELSON (FEAT. READY ROC, RUNT DAWG, & SAUKRATES)
More singing can be found on “Full Nelson”, but this time it's handled by Reggie's Canadian import friend Saukrates, leaving our host more time to work on his verse. This Gilla House posse cut features two above-average contributions from Ready Roc and Runt Dawg and a killer performance from Redman, all laid over a window-rattling Tone Mason instrumental. This shit was nice, son! It's good that Redman has the ability to surround himself with talent when his immediate Def Squad family is otherwise occupied: there are very few rappers in our chosen genre with this trait. Speaking of which, whatever happened to Icadon/Icarus?
5. LIFT IT UP
This song only runs for two-and-a-quarter minutes, so it doesn't last long enough to annoy the listener, but it was still pretty awful. Redman's Reggie alter-ego is singularly focused on getting played in a club setting: that's the only explanation I can come up with for this project's overall sound thus far. Reggie sounds bored as shit during his two verses on here, almost as though even he wanted to burn through this as quickly as possible. “Lift It Up” should have been reassigned to mixtape purgatory. I did enjoy the visual imagery of being so high that marijuana emitted “through [his] veins”, though.
6. ALL I DO (FEAT. FAITH EVANS)
The appearance of a featured vocalist on any Redman song is cause for alarm, but, thankfully, Faith Evans, who takes leave of the magical forest she currently resides in to cash a paycheck, doesn't turn “All I Do” into a love rap: instead, Reggie crafts a personal ode to hip hop and how its various incarnations have molded his life and helped him with establishing his career and lifestyle. For that reason alone, “All I Do” isn't objectionable enough to complain about, especially since Redman sticks with the literal theme and does not try to turn it into an extended metaphor for something else. However, Reggie does sound a bit uncomfortable during this song, possibly because it doesn't sound as though it would fit in with the rest of his back catalog. But this was still alright.
7. LEMME GET 2 (FEAT. SAUKRATES)
Rich Kidd's beat leads the listener to believe that this song may be a mediation on lost loved ones or some other topic equally as serious, but instead, Redman and Saukrates (who sings another hook, but this time, also spits a verse) boast about living the high life by bragging about two of the three bullet points that always come up whenever a rapper is in this position: inordinate amounts of pussy, and the ability to travel freely. (For those of you who are curious, “having shitloads of money” completes the trifecta.) Reggie spends too many bars describing the act of being on a plane, which sounds about as boring as actually being on a plane (that isn't a private jet, anyway), but he still tries his best to sell the shit out of his verse, thanks to his attention to detail in what would normally be considered a pedestrian performance, and Sauk even sounds decent. This isn't bad, but I can't really recommend it to anyone, either.
8. MIC, LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
Hey, kids! Do you remember the producer Rockwilder? Of course you do: I keep questioning the validity of his successful career whenever one of his beats pops up on one of the older albums I review. Well, he's apparently still working today, as evidenced by his work on this awkwardly-titled Redman song that sounds corny as shit, especially when the robotic female voice during the hook dictates the theme of each of Reggie's three verses to the audience, which makes this song sound like a poor excuse to string together three otherwise unrelated mixtape freestyles. Reggie sounds technically proficient, but this song was boring as fuck. At least Rockwilder's beat has been updated for the 2010 audience, though it still sucks. It was nice for Reggie to send some work Rockwilder's way, though, since Redman is the reason Rock had a career in the first place and all.
9. CHEERZ (FEAT. READY ROC & MELANIE RUTHERFORD)
This song was underwhelming at best. Reggie and his weed carrier (given that this is Redman we're talking about, I mean that in the most literal sense this time around) have an effortless chemistry behind the mic, but the M-Phazes beat sounds as schmaltzy as pre-The College Dropout Kanye West, and having R&B singer (and Gilla House associate, if memory serves me correctly) Melanie Rutherford sing the chorus disrupts the flow of what is ostensibly a song celebrating the success of an underground hip hop career. (That sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but just go with me on this.) This was alright, but it's not real.
10. ROCKIN WIT DA BEST (FEAT. KOOL MOE DEE)
This enjoyable effort was a smartly calculated bid for Reggie's continued relevance in our chosen genre: our host reaches out to the older audience (let's be honest, the odds are pretty good that, if you're a fan of Redman, you're probably at least in your late twenties or early thirties) by including witty wordplay and what amounts to a fairly useless cameo from old school legend Kool Moe Dee, while also appealing to the newer heads by spitting over a rather hostile ThreeSixty instrumental that gets the neck moving. This song won't suddenly convert anyone over to the Doc side, but it was still pretty good.
11. LITE 1 WITCHA BOI (FEAT. METHOD MAN & BUN B)
It wouldn't be a Redman album without an ode to the stickiest of the icky: the weed song is possibly the only consistent theme running through his catalog now, since the Def Squad fails to make their presence known on Reggie. And of course his partner-in-rhyme Method Man would make his obligatory appearance on this track. But the problem is that this song fucking sucks, no matter what the other blogs tell you: neither Meth nor Red sound at all natural smoking homegrown over this Southern-tinted Audibles instrumental. (For the record, Bun B, who last worked with hip hop's Cheech and Chong on “City Lights” from Blackout! 2, sounds okay, since he's in his wheelhouse and all.) I find it troubling that a Meth and Red song can sound this fucking terrible: this doesn't leave me with especially high expectations for the upcoming Blackout! 3. Sigh.
12. WHN THE LIGHTS GO OFF (FEAT. POO BEAR)
Nope, I double checked: that is actually how the word is spelled in the title. Clearly, Reggie was in too much of a hurry to use spellcheck. This was, quite possibly, the most “mature” Redman song ever recorded. I put the “mature” in quotes because Reggie is still talking his shit, but this time around, he's also reflecting on his life in our chosen genre and how lucky he has been to enjoy it for so long, all while acknowledging that he has had to work hard for his position as an elder statesman. The beat is fairly non-Redman in nature, and Poo Bear's chorus is pretty generic, but there isn't anything technically wrong with this song. I don't think it'll end up on my iTunes Redman playlist anytime soon, though.
13. TIGER STYLE CRANE
This was the first song I heard from Reggie that was guaranteed to make the album (as opposed to those various teaser singles that our host dropped and the label forgot about), and I loved it so much that I refused to listen to “Def Jammable” or any other new product, just in case they tainted my theory that Redman was still capable of bringing some hot shit to the table. The Fyre Dept.'s beat is fast-paced and a perfect fit for Reggie's boasts (which are recycled from a satellite radio freestyle he performed over the beat for Jay-Z's Dr. Dre-produced “Trouble”), and his self-produced music video only adds to the lack of luster. “Tiger Style Crane” doesn't really fit on Reggie (indeed, the outro of “Whn The Lights Ho Off” implies that the previous song was originally conceived to be the ending of the album), but it's a welcome gift for the self-proclaimed “eleventh member of the Wu-Tang” to give his fans.
THE LAST WORD: Reggie is a step in the right direction for Redman, in that it sounds much better than the disappointing Red Gone Wild: Thee Album, but it still doesn't consistently work. In excising the elements that made his previous efforts run overlong (the multiple skits, recurring characters, and most of the guest spots from folks outside of his immediate Gilla House crew), Reggie Noble has also lost most of the sense of fun his earlier projects exhibited. True, Reggie doesn't have an opportunity to lose focus and ramble on during an album that consists of thirteen (relatively short) tracks, but our host is at his best when he has no such restrictions. About half of Reggie works beautifully, with Redman's nimble verses playing tag with instrumentals that manage to keep up, but when our host deviates from his previously-established formula, the results run the gamut from poor to terrible (or, in the case of “Lite 1 Witcha Boi”, terribly poor). Still, even though this wasn't a complete success, Reggie does manage to prove that Redman is capable of creating (some) compelling music, with or without the help of his boys. I just hope that his follow-up to this doesn't completely ignore his past life as a flagship Def Squad member, and maybe also provides some clarification on this whole “eleventh member of Wu-Tang” thing, since Reggie Noble would sound pretty good over some Wu-Elements contributions.