Two years after proving that child rappers could talk shit with the best of them, Shyheim Franklin followed up his debut, which could be described as anything but precious, with The Lost Generation, a sophomore project that found him in between not just adolescence and puberty, but also between the underground and what qualified as the mainstream in 1996. His coincidental connection with the Wu-Tang Clan opened up several doors, not just as a rapper but also as an actor, but as his balls dropped, the need for the kid to prove his worth as a solo act became more important than ever.
Doing so required a slight background change, as Shyheim found himself shuffled toward Noo Trybe, a subsidiary of Virgin/EMI, the label that released AKA The Rugged Child. This didn't deter the kid: in fact, it actually placed him in better company, as he now shared a label home with the likes of Gang Starr and AZ, not to mention Noo Trybe's distribution deal with Rap-A-Lot Records, which put him about two degrees of separation from Scarface. All this label move did was cause him to put more thought and effort into his work.
As expected, Shy wanted to try to capture lightning in a bottle twice, so he recruited producer RNS (who had actually helped him land his record deal to begin with) to handle the bulk of the music on The Lost Generation. He also somehow convinced the are-they-or-aren't-they Wu-Tang Clan offshoot crew GP Wu to once again pop in periodically and spit some verses or ad-libs wherever they found the empty space. But this time around, Shyheim expanded his scope, both solidifying his Wu-Tang connections with guest spots from much bigger names than fucking GP Wu (including the granddaddy of them all, The RZA) and securing cameos from outside acts who were also creating names for themselves at the time.
Noo Trybe tried to push a couple of singles from the project, but ultimately The Lost Generation feel on deaf ears, with only Wu stans giving a shit that the crew's first child rapper was still working in 1996. Conveniently, that fanbase is where Shyheim would later focus the majority of his energies, but that's a story for another day. If you're still reading this paragraph, that means you're either a hardcore Wu stan, a somewhat-lapsed Wu stan like myself (I can't bring myself to give a damn about a lot of the C-teamers these days, but I will care when someone leaks Once Upon A Time In Shaolin because, well, you know), or you're actually taking my advice and accepting these write-ups for the value of the writing and not because of the subject matter, in which case, good for you: I should probably start burying secrets and sneak previews into these Wu-Tang posts since hardly anyone reads them anyway. But for now, I'll just get to the body of the review, thanks.
1. SHIT IZ REAL
I give Shy credit for one thing: bypassing the unnecessary rap album intro. But I take that credit away, and many more, for kicking off The Lost Generation with this radio-friendly bullshit (song title aside, although the radio edit did switch it up to “This Iz Real”, so whatever), so Shyheim Franklin actually owes me credit, and I don't fuck around: I'll have someone knocking on the sliding door to the van he currently lives in by the time this paragraph is complete. Anyway, Shy's hit puberty, so his flow is that of a young man instead of that of a street-soured child, but although he's still pretty okay with the pen, he really isn't saying anything new about the realness of shit, and RNS's instrumental sounds like faux-Trackmasters, including the hilariously terrible singing of the title. Oh, were you expecting this to sound like a Wu-affiliate album? Look elsewhere, I suppose, because this was bad.
2. DEAR GOD (FEAT. POP DA BROWN HORNET & JUNE LUVA)
If you completely discount the existence of “Shit Iz Real”, “Dear God” makes for a decent introductory song. Over a simple RNS instrumental that fits our host, Shyheim waxes poetically about transgressions (both his own and otherwise) and talks to his God, while GP Wu's Pop Da Brown Hornet watches and occasionally chimes in. (His bandmate June Luva does the same, although to much less of a degree.) Shy's vocals sound closer to AKA The Rugged Child than “Shit Iz Real”, so it's obvious that he started growing hair where there wasn't any before somewhere in the middle of the recording sessions for The Lost Generation, but this isn't a bad thing: it's rare to hear such a drastic progression from an artist take place all within the span of a single project (one that isn't a greatest hits album, anyway). Although this wasn't the XTC cover song I was not-so-secretly hoping for, this still wasn't bad.
3. JIGGY COMIN'
The way the song begins (after a brief skit), you would think this was Shyheim's version of Mobb Deep's “Temperature's Rising”, but our host quickly shifts the focus away from anonymous friends in the bing to himself, and “Jiggy Comin'” fails as a result. Shy sounds bored at the prospect of running from the police, and yet finds himself rhyming about that very act, and that apathy carries over to the listener, who won't give a shit if he gets caught or not. RNS's slow-ass beat doesn't help, and Shy evoking two far superior songs during the hook (KRS-One's “Sound Of Da Police” and N.W.A.'s “Fuck The Police”) will make you immediately realize that there are far better things you could be listening to right now. Smart move, Shyheim.
4. 5 ELEMENTS (FEAT. GP WU)
Not the greatest posse cut or anything, but “5 Elements”, a collaboration between Shyheim and all four members of kinda-sorta Wu offshoot GP Wu (Down Low Recka and Rubbabandz join the already-seated Pop Da Brown Hornet and June Luva), is the first actual good song on The Lost Generation, if only because posse cuts bring with them not just a palpable energy that each contributor feeds off of, but also guarantees that more than two rappers will share screen time, which helps folks with short attention sp...oooh, look, a blue car! The instrumental, credited to both RNS and our host, sounds like these five dudes decided to hide out in an abandoned underground basement with malfunctioning lighting equipment, which actually works to override the artists when their bars don't work. Hey, I'm a Wu stan: I like the posse cuts. Sue me.
5. SHAOLIN STYLE (FEAT. SQUIG)
Shyheim is back to sounding older again, which is dangerous, because without the “vulgar child rapper” image to hide behind, he sounds just like every other rapper ever. For example, it's easy to forget that guest star Squib actually handles the second verse on “Shaolin Style”, since his voice blends in with that of our host to form a terrible-tasting protein shake. L.E.S.'s beat is okay, but these guys have no idea what to do with it. I feel this was released as a single just as an excuse to feature Method Man in the video (lip-syncing to the vocal sample on the hook, a sound bite taken from the Wu-Tang Clan song “Method Man”, which gives the track its title), thereby scoring some points with Wu fanatics that Shyheim never truly earns on here.
6. REAL BAD BOYS
I don't know why it takes over a full minute for the song to actually start: that opening interlude goes nowhere and probably cost Shyheim a large number of listeners, as it is super fucking easy to skip something that doesn't catch your ear immediately. But the actual song isn't bad: “Real Bad Boys”, terrible title aside, sounds like an outtake from AKA The Rugged Child, from our host's child-like vocals to RNS's dusty-ass instrumental. Not the hottest song or anything, but it deserves better than to be saddled with that inane interlude.
7. WHAT MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND (FEAT. RUBBABANDZ, SMOOTHE DA HUSTLER, TRIGGER THA GAMBLER, & DV ALIAS KHRIST)
Even though The Lost Generation features a song with actual Wu-Tang Clan participation (SPOILER ALERT!), “What Makes The World Go Round” contained the most fascinating guests of the entire project back when it dropped back in 1996. Shyheim and GP Wu's Rubbabandz are essentially inserted into what sounds like, but really isn't, honest, a pre-existing Smoothe Da Hustler / Trigger Tha Gambler song from either Once Upon A Time In America or Life's A 50-50 Gamble, D.R. Period-produced beat and all, and the end result should have sounded better, but still isn't bad, especially the non-Shyheim and Rubbabandz parts. Smooth and Trigger, the “Broken Language” siblings who complement each other like peanut butter and jelly, deliver great verses, and their friend DV Alias Khrist (whose name is misspelled in the album credits as “Dzalias Christ”), who they apparently keep on retainer, sounds alright. If you look at this as not a Shyheim song, it helps the medicine go down.
8. CAN YOU FEEL IT (FEAT. JUNE LUVA & KING JUST)
Hey, male readers who most certainly dominate the readership of HHID: you could ejaculate into an oscillating fan, and the resulting noise (and mess) would still sound better than this faux-old school bullshit. Of course, the fact that Shy repeats the word “max” several times during his second verse makes this comparison that much worse for me, but fuck this shit. No wonder “Can You Feel It”'s parents got divorced.
9. LIFE AS A SHORTY
Tone Capone's production takes the “Shaolin Style” route, using a Wu-Tang Clan sound bite as a makeshift chorus (this time from Inspectah Deck's verse on “C.R.E.A.M.”, although DJ Premier did it better on Group Home's “Livin' Proof”). However, our host doesn't merely talk shit throughout: he runs down a quasi-autobiographical list of burdens and pressures placed upon him while growing up (as a “shorty”, I assume), with his father leaving the family at an early age and his mother turning to drugs for guidance, which Shyheim explains as the reason he hit the streets in the first place. Lyrically, this wasn't bad, and our host sounds sincere enough. Beat-wise, though, this was pretty boring. A shame.
10. DON'T FRONT / LET'S CHILL (FEAT. LAMISHA GRINSTEAD & KEEMEELAH WILLIAMS)
Conversely, Capone's work behind the boards on here is pretty good, but Shyheim's need to fit a love rap (well, more of a “I wanna fuck” rap, but you get the idea) onto The Lost Generation is puzzling, since he peppers “Don't Front / Let's Chill” with enough curses to ensure that it'll never get played on the radio anyway, which is usually the point of recording such a track in the first place. The crooning on the hook, from two members of the late R&B trio 702, is flat and lifeless, and our host struggles for dear life with the subject matter, where he wouldn't sound convincing even if he were hitting on a girl right in front of you. Oh well, at least the beat was okay?
11. THINGS HAPPEN
This wasn't bad: RNS's instrumental was alright, and Shyheim's lyrical rationalizing of his life in the streets is presented with much more clarity than you would expect. However, those very same tales of his life in the streets not only mirror what he's already shared with us elsewhere on the album, they also make him sound more like a generic no-name rapper as opposed to being the Wu-Tang Clan affiliate he is. In short, “Things Happen” is alright, but it's not real.
12. SEE WHAT I SEE (FEAT. DV ALIAS KHRIST)
A Smoothe Da Hustler song without the star attraction, all the way down to the D.R. Period beat and the D.V. Alias Khrist-aided hook. Since the listener spends his or her (oh, who am I kidding: Shyheim has no female fans) waiting for a cameo that never happens, you're bound to miss Shyheim's wholly-serviceable verses, which actually sound pretty good when paired up with the instrumental, which bangs. The hook is a bit too wordy, but Khrist pulls it out at the end, rendering “See What I See” to be a bit of a late-game gem.
13. STILL THERE (FEAT. DELOUIE AVANT JR.)
A bit confusing, as our host isn't skilled enough as a writer to make his point clear on “Still There”, an ode to friends and family that he lost, or is he playing the role of a prisoner writing to loved ones? Both and neither, actually, but regardless of clarity, his verses, which are delivered slowly to match the instrumental, aren't bad, and he sounds sincere. What hurts “Still There” is DeLouie Avant Jr.'s vocals during the hook, which are just so cheesy that you'll find it difficult to stifle your laughter, even when you realize how earnest the gut is trying to sound. Oh well.
14. YOUNG GODZ (FEAT. KILLA SIN, MADMAN, RUBBABANDZ, RAEKWON, & THE RZA)
The final song on The Lost Generation is the most Wu-esque of the bunch, mostly because it's actually produced by The RZA and features a barely-credited cameo during the intro (and hook) from Raekwon, which was obviously recorded well before Shyheim started a one-sided, ill-advised beef with the Chef. The instrumental isn't bad, but it's a lot less appealing than I remembered: tricks of the mind, I guess. The lyrics are all pretty good, though: Shy, RZA's brother 9th Prince (rhyming under his alias Madman), GP Wu's Rubbabandz, and 9th's Killarmy coworker Killa Sin all unwind with stellar performances that elevate the track, and Prince Rakeem's chorus (which isn't credited to him at all in the liner notes) isn't even all that annoying. Shyheim certainly thrives when working alongside actual Wu affiliates: it makes one wonder why he hasn't done that more often throughout his career.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The Lost Generation is really the only way Shyheim could have ever followed up his bleak, squeaky-voiced debut, but the charm (which isn't the right word to use here, but I'm a little tired right now) of hearing adult subject matter flow out of a kid's prepubecent mouth is negated when that kid grows up, as most kids tend to do. Shyheim certainly isn't a bad rapper, but there is very little to distinguish him from any other act now: he could be ghostwriting every third song on the radio right now and not only could he carve out a good living for himself, you also wouldn't be able to tell. Which is a long-winded way of saying that most of The Lost Generation is uninspired. Some of the beats are alright, and acknowledging his awareness of Smoothe Da Hustler's "Broken Language" by hiring the guy to spit a verse was actually a pretty good idea at the time, but none of this translates into must-see TV. And Raekwon couldn't be bothered to lend an actual verse? That motherfucker will give a verse to anybody! Raekwon has become the new Kool G. Rap (in that G. Rap will also work with anyone who will give him a check) so gradually that I bet none of you two have even noticed. And yet even he didn't feel like contributing to The Lost Generation? That probably says something right there.
BUY OR BURN? You can burn this one without feeling any guilt. There's only three songs listed below that are worth hearing, but the first track is the one that Wu stans will wet themselves over, and you two have probably already heard that one a million times, so why spend the money?
BEST TRACKS: “Young Godz”; “5 Elements”; “See What I See”