(Today's Reader Review finds Taylor discovering an album that I honestly would never have bothered with, Cam'ron's second effort S.D.E. At least somebody got around to it, I guess. Leave some comments for Taylor below.)
In 2000, Cameron Giles released his sophomore effort, S.D.E. (which stands for Sports, Drugs, & Entertainment), to the masses, selling enough copies to instantly go quadruple aluminum. After his original label home, Undeas Entertainment, went under (apparently taking Charli Baltimore's career along with it), Cam'ron was shifted to parent company Epic, where he managed to release this lone project before cutting ties with the corporate offices in favor of Damon Dash's Roc-A-Fella crew (which is when the whole fucking Diplomat (or DipSet, if you prefer) movement started up officially).
S.D.E. is supposed to be Cam'ron's so-called “hard” album, a response to the critics who felt that his debut, Confessions of Fire, made too many concessions to the mainstream as a way of guaranteeing higher sales figures (see: “Horse & Carriage”). In fact, the only reason I even took notice of it in the bargain bin of my local Best Buy is because of his menacing look on the album cover: Cam'ron made me believe that, whether I bought S.D.E. or not, he would kick me in the balls and have sex with my girlfriend. And yet I bought this album anyway.
S.D.E. is the last Cam'ron album on which he actually tried to come across as an emcee; his subsequent efforts (on Roc-A-Fella Records and elsewhere) would see him adopting a newer, odd flow that is simultaneously slow, deep, and in double-time, and it seems as though he hasn't been able to evolve any further. Not that his fans really minded: according to Wikipedia, S.D.E. reached as high as number fourteen on the Billboard 200 (hitting number two on the R&B/ Hip Hop Albums chart upon its release) and had three relatively popular singles. However, I hadn't ever heard anything from S.D.E., and I never gave it another thought, at least until I saw it in the bargain bin.
So anyway, I bought this S.D.E., brought it home, and popped it in the CD player. Let's see if it sounds decent nearly eleven years after its initial release date.
1. FUCK YOU
This rap album intro uses the exact same beat from a similarly-named track from Confessions of Fire. Cam'ron appears to be fucking everything on his block, at least until the track devolves into a bunch of girls having an argument with our host. Like all other rap album intros, this is useless as shit.
2. THAT'S ME (FEAT. KEISHA “HONEY” CARGILL)
The instrumental (produced by Self, whoever he is) is suspenseful with its use of horns and drums, but it is ultimately wasted on Cam'ron, who simply brags about how his life is so horrible. Some of the jokes he cracks are humorous, though. This track claims to house a guest appearance from some artist I've never heard of, but all I could hear her do was moan, which makes her cameo the most ridiculous guest contribution since Jamie Foxx on Kanye West's “Gold Digger”.
Darrell “Digga” Branch crafted most of the beats on S.D.E., including this one. His piano over the instrumental sounds oddly familiar, but it grows annoying fairly quickly. I didn't pay much attention to Cameron's lyrics, but I am able to make one observation: he sure does love to rap about how he's living the rich, fast life, and in a generic fashion, too. “Whatever” does seem to include one of the first occurences of the phrase “DipSet” in his overall catalog, so...whatever.
4. DO IT AGAIN (FEAT. JIM JONES & DESTINY'S CHILD) (chk)
I'm surprised that this pop trifle was never released as a single: since it featured Destiny's Child (but really just Beyonce) singing on the chorus about crime and shit, it would have been a number one hit back in 2000. Cameron's lyrics are decent, but not so much that he deserves anything but a pass. The song also claims to feature pseudo weed carrier Jim Jones, but I swear I couldn't hear him anywhere on here.
5. COME KILL ME
The instrumental is as suspenseful as a horror movie, but maybe it was too successful, since it ultimately distracts you from Cameron's lyrics, which I ultimately didn't understand but can tell you that they don't seem to have anything to do with his death or dying.
6. WHAT I GOTTA LIVE FOR
This Middle Eastern-styled Digga beat is energetic, though it also distracts a bit from the lyrics. (This may be a running theme throughout S.D.E.) After a dramatic intro, Cam'ron drops some lines about what goes on in his hood and even something about his life and what he has to live for, so that was nice.
7. VIOLENCE (FEAT. OL' DIRTY BASTARD)
Cam'ron was one of the few non-Wu rappers to record a song with Ol' Dirty Bastard before he turned into a recluse and ultimately passed away. (Strangely enough, they both ended up signed with Damon Dash's vision of Roc-A-Fella Records, but Osirus died before anything could ever come of it, and the Jay-Z decided that his own personal concept of Roc-A-Fella was better, which is why Cameron remains loyal to Dame to this day.) This Digga instrumental manages to invoke the feeling of a living nightmare, so that was interesting. Ol' Dirty Bastard and Cam'ron actually sound mad as hell (as though they won't take it anymore), but Cam'ron only sounds like he's yelling just because the mood calls for it. ODB obviously feels more at home here, delivering an interesting verse, but Cam'ron quickly reappears to hijack his own song back, so the good moments are few and far between.
The other radio friendly song on S.D.E. This Trackmasters-produced excursion sounds out of place on an album with its persistent violent tone: this beat sounds like something Will Smith would have rhymed over. Skip this song and forget that this bullshit even exists.
10. DOUBLE UP (FEAT. JUELZ SANTANA)
The beat is ominously dark, but also ominously boring. The track didn't grab my attention like it should have, especially since it apparently introduced fellow Diplomat Juelz Santana to the hip hop game (as if anybody cares at this point). Luckily, I was able to wake up before the next song started.
11. LOSIN' WEIGHT (FEAT. PRODIGY)
Possibly the best song on S.D.E. Cam'ron sounds fully comfortable with this Digga beat, which will hook you instantly with its melancholy piano keys. Prodigy (from Mobb Deep, although I feel that I shouldn't have to remind you two anymore) sounds alright, but he definitely could have taken his verse to a whole another level: instead, he just brags about himself. (So he sounds just as disappointing as he does today? Got it.) Cam'ron spits some pretty good verses, though, so this is a song that you might want to listen to again.
12. SPORTS, DRUGS & ENTERTAINMENT
On this title track (which finally attempts to justify the album's goofy name), Cam'ron spins a tale from his real life that is fairly compelling but the (otherwise decent) Ron G beat feels occasionally too peppy at times, which kind of ruins the mood. Otherwise, this was a really good song, and not because it uses vocal samples from both Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G. (the former of which is ultimately wasted).
13. WHAT MEANS THE WORLD TO YOU (FEAT. KEEMA)
The third single from S.D.E. samples The Police's “Roxanne”, proving that it isn't just fifty-year-old men who podcast out of their cottages who are fans of Sting's early work: a twenty-year-old (at the time) drug dealer-slash-rapper can also be into it. The beat (as chopped by Armando Colon) is okay, but it can become repetitive and dull at times. Cam'ron and his weed carrier Keema speed rap for your listening pleasure, but since they both seem to be co-opting that particular style for style as opposed to substance, they don't rap about anything remotely interesting. This is one of those songs that you'll want to listen to once and then never again: I'm surprised at how its fans are able to tolerate it. (And there's a remix of this track, too, featuring, of all people, Ludacris, Trina, UGK, and Juelz Santana. Maybe Cam'ron figured that getting a mixture of different voices would distract hip hop heads from the grating instrumental. And this criticism is coming from a guy who unabashedly loves 1980s music, mind you.)
14. ALL THE CHICKENS (FEAT. JUELZ SANTANA)
The sample at the beginning of the song suggests awesomeness, but then the track turns into some outright boring shit. I believe that Cam'ron and his weed carrier Juelz Santana spit some verses, but I dozed off for most of the song's running time, so I can't really comment on that.
15. FUCK YOU AT (FEAT. NOREAGA)
This song ultimately does not invoke feelings of fear. The beat is fairly minimalistic in scope, consisting of drums, chicks and occasional piano keys used to mix things up a bit. However, both artists don't give it their all: Cam'ron resorts to coasting while Noreaga comes across as how I imagine a headache sounds. Reach for the skip button, folks.
16. WHY NO (FEAT. FREEKEY ZEKEY & JIM JONES)
The list of features on this track suggests that two of the original DipSet weed carriers make appearances on here, but Freekey Zekey only spouts random shit while Jim Jones is once again M.I.A. While Cameron provides some decent verses, the beat itself has no personality, so there is no reason for anybody to ever recommend this song. It seems like these three treated this recording session as a regular lazy day at work, performing the absolute bare minimum in order to get paid (and receive future royalties, if S.D.E. was a hit).
17. WHERE I'M FROM (FEAT. DUTCH & SPADE)
This collaboration was actually pretty good. The instrumental was dark and moody, allowing Cameron and his invited guests (and Undeas labelmates) Dutch and Spade to spit out verses that keep you hooked, even though their bars aren't as great as they could have been. Still, I liked this track.
18. LET ME KNOW
This first single from S.D.E. samples the theme from Monday Night Football (and may also be the inspiration for the “sports” portion of the album title, for all I know), which sounds okay at first, but becomes annoying pretty quickly. I don't understand why only the last section of the theme song was used, while the rest was untouched: anybody with a synthesizer could recreate that sound, so there was no need to sample anything. Cam'ron sounds both angry and re-energized, but the instrumental is the track's downfall.
19. MY HOOD (FEAT. JIM JONES)
Strangely enough, the second single released from S.D.E. is also the final song on the album. Dame Grease, who handled most of the better tracks from DMX's debut It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, brings us a poppy beat that sounds custom-built for radio consumption, which seems out of character for him. Cam'ron drops some verses about his hood, which is appropriate, and his weed carrier only performs the chorus (but at least he actually shows up this time). For some reason, “My Hood” only appears as a censored version on S.D.E.; even future pressings have not bothered to fix this error, which makes this a very disappointing way to end the album.
THE LAST WORD: Though Cam'ron has managed to throw away much of the trappings from the Confessions of Fire era, he still comes up short on S.D.E. Although a good number of these songs are enjoyable enough, the album as a whole fails to live up to the expectations that I had after looking at the threatening cover art. Cam'ron's pre-Come Home With Me flow makes him sound as though he was coasting, and Digga's beats (along with the other handful of producers who contributed) range from amazing to flat-out boring. I have to give credit to guest stars Ol' Dirty Bastard (R.I.P.), Prodigy, and Dutch & Spade for at least trying on S.D.E. I'm sure that most Diplomat stans hold S.D.E. in high regard as a classic album, but for everybody else out there, this was just decent. Not good, and not horrible, but decent. S.D.E. has a few good songs, but as a whole it just isn't worth your hard-earned money.
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.)