So, I actually sided with Puff Daddy when The Lox decided to take out their frustration on him and his Bad Boy Records label.
While that may be an unpopular stance, it's a true one. The Yonkers-based trio, made up of rappers Jadakiss, Styles P., and Sheek Louch, were upset at the general trajectory of their career, and decided to take matters into their own hands by, well, taking their battle to the streets. Which meant a lot of shit-talking, and also some t-shirts were printed up, as they always are.
Eventually The Lox "won" their fight, as Puffy released them from their Bad Boy contract, allowing the trio to align themselves with their rap family, the Ruff Ryders collective (which included acts such as female rapper Eve, producer Swizz Beatz, and fellow Yonkers native DMX), over on their vanity imprint over at Interscope Records. This sophomore album, We Are The Streets, was the end result of that war, a project helmed almost exclusively by Swizzy (with a few notable exceptions) that allowed Kiss, Styles, and Sheek to finally write the type of songs that Puffy and the Bad Boy money machine wouldn't allow.
But they never actually "won", hence the use of quotation marks. Here's the thing: The Lox knew exactly what they were getting into when they signed on the dotted line. Every single one of Bad Boy's acts recorded songs designed for the maximum amount of mainstream exposure. Even the label's most prized asset, The Notorious B.I.G. (R.I.P.), released "Juicy", "Big Poppa", and "Mo Money, Mo Problems": he may not have been thrilled at the thought behind those tracks, but he couldn't complain about the results, as Biggie reached a much wider audience than he ever would have had he stuck behind using "Machine Gun Funk" as Ready To Die's first single like he wanted (which would have been a fucking terrible idea, and his career would have gone down in flames, but that's a story for another day). And the only other rappers on the label worth talking about, Ma$e and Black Rob, both towed the company line, making Sean happy enough to allow them to get a few "street" records off of their chests.
The Lox's debut album, Money, Power & Respect, was, in essence, exactly the same as all of the rest of Bad Boy's hip hop releases: it included some sample-heavy tracks for the radio, and mixed in some harder songs for good measure, which only made for a schizophrenic listen if the artist involved wasn't deft enough behind the mic to handle both sides (which is why Biggie succeeded and The Lox failed). They named their second album We Are The Streets in an effort to rebrand themselves, but it's nearly impossible to do so when you released a song called "If You Think I'm Jiggy" to promote your first album. Neptunes remix or not, that track is a fucking embarrassment, and the best thing Kiss, Styles, and Sheek can do at this point is accept the fact that it happened and learn from it.
We Are The Streets is proof that they haven't learned a thing. They wished to be with a "harder" record label, and they managed to make that happen, but when your primary producer is Swizz Beatz, it's difficult to be taken seriously, almost as difficult as it was when Puffy was your financial backer. The trio sold a bunch of copies of this album off of the strength of its backstory alone, but while a lot of you two still hold the individual members of The Lox in high-ish regard (Jadakiss, especially, receives a lot of love on hip hop blogs that isn't entirely deserved, given his career output), We Are The Streets serves as evidence to the contrary.
Fuck, I gave the review away in the intro again.
1. INTRO (SKIT)
Unnecessary, overlong, and kind of racist to boot. I get what The Lox were going for on this intro, but I mean, really, motherfuckers? I think the trio loses a ton of fans every single time this skit plays in its entirety.
2. FUCK YOU
In which Kiss, Styles, and Sheek proceed to verbally attack any of the listeners who made it through that bullshit intro. Well, not really, but sort of: The Lox adopt an antagonistic stance, shifting the blame for the downturn of their careers onto the audience, using Swizzy's simple loop as a vehicle of hatred and bile. Apparently they were so upset that they eschewed a hook all the way up until the very end of the track, which was admittedly a nice touch, and all the participants sound refreshed, boastful, and, obviously, quick to anger, because why else would you ever want to call a song “Fuck You”? Unless it's a song about fucking, of course. Weirdly, though, this track works better for me today than it ever did back in 2000, and you don't expect Swizz Beatz production to hold up over the years for anyone not named DMX, so that is quite the accomplishment.
3. CAN I LIVE (FEAT. KASINO)
Swizzy's beat sounds unequivocally like his work, but also, it doesn't? It's strange, but “Can I Live” showcases an ever-so-tiny evolution in his sound without abandoning the (often annoying) tics that drive most of his instrumentals. Kiss and Sheek share the first verse, while Styles and guest rapper Kasino, who sounds like a cross between Cam'Ron and early Jay-Z (whether that's a compliment is open to your interpretation), handle the back half, talking their shit with the confidence of a rap group whose street image had previously been diluted through the efforts of their former record label's tendency to make everything seem happy, shiny, and blingy. That is to say, they sound alright. The song is also alright, but it isn't ever going to be considered required reading or anything.
4. BUILT FOR BODIES (SKIT)
5. BREATHE EASY
The second song in a row that shares its title with a Jay-Z song features a PK beat that isn't nearly as dramatic or confrontational as he thought it was, and it affects the verses from both Styles and Sheek, who both sound like their actively treading water at that very moment, repeating their various threats without the aggression that should be paired up with them. Jadakiss walks away without a scratch, though, unsurprisingly turning in the best performance, although given the rest of “Breathe Easy”, that isn't saying a whole lot. His punchline at the end of his verse was kind of funny, though.
6. FELONY N----S (FEAT. SWIZZ BEATZ)
Styles P.'s solo shot takes place over a Swizz beat that sounds almost exactly like the shit he usually concocts for Ruff Ryders posse cuts: it sets up parameters but is otherwise too ineffective to build a coherent song around. So of course that's what Styles tries to do, with a hook and everything. “Felony N----s” is a fucking mess, and Holiday deserves a better platform for his boasts and threats, not this seemingly endless loop that constantly reminds you of how long life can be when you're stuck listening to shit that sucks just because you're ostensibly “writing” about it for a “blog” that people allegedly “read”. Ugh.
7. WILD OUT (FEAT. SWIZZ BEATZ)
I hate everything but the verses on “Wild Out”, which, not surprisingly, was released as the first single from We Are The Streets. The hook is almost condescending with its stupidity, and Swizzy's added presence with the ad-libs only serves to frustrate me even more so that his pedestrian work behind the boards, which pretty much sounds like damn near every other Swizz beat on this project (save for “Can I Live” and another one I'm getting to soon, so stay tuned). However, Sheek, Kiss, and Styles all walk away smelling like goddamn roses, as the idea of working alongside their friend brings out the best in them, with everyone turning in decent-to-good performances. Still, this was the first time I've sat all the way through “Wild Out” in fourteen fucking years, and after this review I will never (intentionally) seek it out ever again, so.
8. BLOOD PRESSURE
After a voicemail that doesn't build a bridge between “Wild Out” and this track as much as it alerts the listener to just how fucking unnecessary it is in life, Jadakiss supplies the audience with his own solo effort, “Blood Pressure”, and the beat is certainly annoying enough to force your physician to prescribe medication, as it does the man no favors by being generically Swizz-y. I'm sure it would be fantastic to have your name chanted during the chorus of, well, any song, but Kiss should be appalled that this celebration of him exists in its current form. Maybe if someone remixed this shit, I wouldn't complain about it as much, but that would be unlike me.
Swizz Beatz loosens the reigns just a little bit more, allowing DJ Premier a chance at shifting the entire sound of We Are The Streets over to some boom-bap that immediately sticks out in your mind because of just how different it sounds from what preceded it. Yes, “Recognize” doesn't fit the goddamn album at all. Using a simple beat that works in a sound bite from fellow Ruff Ryder Eve that gives the song its title, Kiss, Sheek, and Styles all come across as downright rested, relaxed, and somewhat excited about the idea of pending stardom, as though “Recognize” was recorded but shelved back when The Lox were still signed to Puffy. It's not Primo's best work, so it's up to the lyrics to save the day, and even though Sheek's contribution comes off as awkward when his rhyme scheme switches up, I still found myself enjoying this in a nostalgic way. All of the participants have created much better work, though.
10. RAPE'N U RECORDS (SKIT) (FEAT. J-HOOD)
I love that this extended skit is pretty much Kiss and company brutally attacking Puffy and Bad Boy Records; The Lox torch that bridge with the zeal of a serial arsonist, and yet The Lox and Sean still occasionally work together to this day. Weird. They sure do use the word “rape” a lot, don't they?
11. Y'ALL FUCKED UP NOW
Our vacation is short-lived, as Swizzy returns behind the board to under-produce “Y'all Fucked Up Now”, a wholly original sentiment that absolutely no rapper has ever expressed toward their competition...in sung form, anyway. Regardless, this shit was terrible: the weak beat and scattershot verses from all of the players render this shit to be dead on arrival. Just skip ahead to the next paragraph, please.
12. SCREAM L.O.X.
Weirdly, The Lox take (mild) potshots at both Puffy and his Bad Boy Records machine over a PK instrumental that may as well have rolled off of an assembly line at the same goddamn factory, given how smooth and un-street it sounds. The fuck was all this about, guys?
13. U TOLD ME (FEAT. EVE)
Swizzy returns, bringing with him a beat that actually tries to approximate something similar to “dramatic intensity”: at the very least, you can definitely tell it's a Swizz Beatz production, but it isn't exactly interchangeable with the rest of his shit. Still has its problems, though: the hook (performed by (a singing) Eve and Jadakiss) runs for more bars than what's absolutely needed, which throws off the flow of “U Told Me”, so even though everyone sounds alright (if indifferent) on here, it's hard to ever feel comfortable with the track as a whole. But hey, Swizzy tried! Someone ship that motherfucker a gold star!
14. BRAINS... (TAKE 1) (SKIT)
Dear The Lox: Not every random idea that runs through your collective heads needs to be committed to wax, especially blow job skits that fail to further the album along.
15. RYDE OR DIE, BITCH (FEAT. EVE & TIMBALAND)
The final non-Swizz beat of We Are The Streets is this Timbaland-produced effort designed for radio consumption, which it actually received, albeit briefly, when Interscope released it as the second single (as “Ryde Or Die Chick”, because duh). Which, considering the reason why The Lox left Bad Boy, is a bit confusing to reconcile: weren't you fuckers trying to avoid doing shit like this? Misogynistic in the way that a lot of rap music unfortunately was and continues to be, Kiss, Styles, and Sheek all describe their perfect bitch and all of the violence and sexual situations that come with rolling with a woman classified by the title's description. Adding to the confusion is Eve's explicit contribution to the hook (alongside Timmy himself), which only seems to validate everything The Lox express on here. Not that there is anything overly offensive against women on here: it's just that the ladies described vacillate between being sperm receptacles and glorified gun holsters, sometimes even managing both at once. Timbo plays with the (catchy, but not exactly experimental, as all of his best work tends to be) beat toward the end, as only he could, but as a whole, this song is much, much worse than I remembered it to be.
16. BRING IT ON
Styles and Kiss did it, so in the interest of fairness, someone had to let Sheek Louch get a solo song of his own. Pity that he forgot to write decent lyrics for his showcase: instead, the listener is subjected to some generic boasts 'n bullshit that isn't backed up by much of anything. I usually like Sheek because he's forced to try that much harder to impress folks since he shares a group with Kiss and Styles: what can I say, I like underdogs. But since his boys don't appear on “Bring It On”, he takes a lazy route, sounding reckless, but in a really boring way. Sigh.
17. IF YOU KNOW (FEAT. DRAG-ON, EVE, & SWIZZ BEATZ)
Pretty much every Swizz beat on We Are The Streets sounded like it belonged to a Ruff Ryders posse cut more than it did The Lox. So when a fucking Ruff Ryders posse cut actually breaks out, he fumbles the ball by lending our hosts a Casio-by-way-of-a-Renaissance-fair instrumental that pounds its intentions into your brain, creating resentment and anger aimed toward every goddamn participant, including Eve, Cam'Ron soundalike (yeah, I don't care, that's always going to be how I remember him) Drag-On, and even a rhyming Swizzy alongside Sheek, Styles, and Kiss. They seemed to have fun recording this shit, since the mic jeeps getting passed around after each bar like a joint, bur that doesn't mean the audience will enjoy it, even if they were high. Groan.
18. WE ARE THE STREETS
We Are The Streets ends with its title track, which is, oddly, partially censored on my copy, a bizarre contrast to the rest of the project. Not that it matters, because the song is awful, but hearing sound effects instead of curses, and then immediately hearing actual curses, only reinforces how little interest Interscope had in ensuring that this “comeback” Lox album met any sort of typical quality control standards: this was just a cash grab for them. What I'm saying is, fuck this song.
FINAL THOUGHTS: We Are The Streets sounds like it was recorded during a caffeine-fueled thirty-six hour binge where the individual members of The Lox were convinced that every single one of their ideas was necessary and valid. If one were to focus on lyrics alone, Jadakiss, Sheek, and Styles could each be commended for singled-out performances, as each member is more than merely technically proficient behind the microphone. However, these are songs, not spoken-word poems, and as songs, a great majority of We Are The Streets falls at Swizz Beatz's Givenchy shoes, as his production (for the most part) consists of only Casio-aided loops that all end up sounding the same. The Lox thrive when given different producers: they actually sound interesting when alongside DJ Premier, and as for the Timbaland beat, well, at least they were alert. But if they truly believed that this is the album their hardcore fans were clamoring for during their Bad Boy tenure, then maybe they aren't really a part of the streets at all. Yeah, I said it. This shit sucks.
BUY OR BURN? Burn this motherfucker to the ground.
BEST TRACKS: "Recognize"; "... you know what? I've got nothing.
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