September 11, 2018

My Gut Reaction: Black Rob - The Black Rob Report (October 18, 2005)

Pose the question, “Who is the best rapper from Harlem?”, and you’re likely to get several different responses. A younger hip hop head may bring A$AP Rocky into the conversation, or you may run into a fan of Dave East or Smoke DZA. The older demographic may spit out the late Big L’s name automatically, as though they had been waiting their entire life to answer your query, or, just to be subversive, they may throw Cam’Ron into the mix. Someone could throw Azealia Banks’ name into the conversation and honestly mean it. If you manage to get some actual rap artists to participate, you may hears responses as varied as Ma$e, Doug E. Fresh, or Kurtis Blow. You may get a smart-ass who’ll name-drop 2Pac on a technicality. Just know that anyone responding with Herb McGruff is trolling you and doesn’t deserve your attention.

Alter your question to read “Spanish Harlem”, however, and you’ll likely only get one answer: Robert “Black Rob” Ross.

Black Rob is a prime example of patience paying off. The artist formerly known as Bacardi Rob (which is slightly more creative) started off as a part of a rap crew called The Schizophrenics, who went absolutely nowhere. Around the same time, he connected with an unknown deejay and producer named Dan Nakamura, recording a few songs together that have yet to see the light of day. When I remind you that Dan Nakamura later became known as The Automator, you’ll understand why I want to hear those songs so goddamn badly. I guess there’s always that rumored forthcoming Handsome Boy Modeling School project – maybe Nakamura will bless us with some unreleased vocals, similar to what he did on Deltron Event 2.

Robert’s voice was heard by the right people, though, as he was quickly folded into Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy Records empire, and during the golden years to boot. Black Robert found himself adding verses to remixes from the likes of 112 and Total, which led to collaborating on proper tracks with Ma$e, The Lox, and Puff Daddy himself. Black Robert appeared on two tracks earmarked for Puffy’s debut solo effort No Way Out (credited to Puff Daddy & The Family): the title track, which ultimately appeared on the Money Talks soundtrack instead, and “I Love You Baby”, one of its standouts, thanks to Rob’s ability to make his tales sound compelling when given a microphone. He released two singles of his own, “I Dare You” (which appeared on the soundtrack to Slam) and “You Don’t Know Me”, which are both pretty catchy but are essentially the exact same song, mostly because both include hooks from Bad Boy producer Harve “Joe Hooker” Pierre that remain stuck in my head to this day, but didn’t hit the mainstream until he dropped the Buckwild-produced “Whoa!”, a blatant play for the clubs that works, as the beat is hypnotic, and Rob’s bars, while simplified for mass consumption, still hit.

All of this led up to his debut album, Life Story, which remains one of the finest albums Puffy has ever been involved with. It even sold over one million copies, making Black Robert the most successful rapper from Spanish Harlem. It included the aforementioned three singles (even though two of them were over a year old at the time of Life Story’s release) and minimal guest participation from outside the immediate family: aside from the usual suspects Puffy, The Lox, G-Dep, Ma$e, and his other colleagues, Jennifer Lopez also makes an appearance, probably because she was dating Puffy at the time of that song’s recording. But the bulk of the project fell on Rob’s shoulders, and he carried the album with his gruff stories, street boasts, and general life experience, as he had been waiting his entire professional life for that moment and didn’t want to waste the opportunity. I even remember giving the project a good review years after it had seen its original release date in 2002.

So why didn’t I give a fuck about checking out his follow-up, The Black Rob Report?

It isn’t as though Rob stopped recording in between the two projects: if anything, he appeared on even more songs, jumping on collaborations with his labelmates, especially his label boss Puffy, as he clocked multiple appearances on Diddy’s The Saga Continues…, including on two of the three hit singles, “Let’s Get It” and the once-ubiquitous “Bad Boy For Life”. But when the time came for the Black Rob promotional train to leave the station, The Black Rob Report was lost in the noise of 2005, as I cannot remember any singles hitting radio or television airwaves, as though Diddy had already abandoned the only street rapper remaining from his roster’s golden days, what with the murder of The Notorious B.I.G. (who never actually recorded a song with Rob, but name-dropped him on Puff Daddy’s “Victory”, so he obviously was aware of who he was) and the defection of The Lox.

I may just have not known that the album even existed. (Pretend the Internet doesn't exist for a moment.) It’s entirely possible that The Black Rob Report was actually heavily promoted, and perhaps I was just in a different place in my life where I wasn’t paying as close attention as I might have if, say, I was forcing myself to review rap albums at the time. But I honestly don’t remember hearing any of his new shit on the radio at the time: instead, the stations around my way stuck with “Whoa!” whenever they felt especially nostalgic for fucking three years prior. Considering The Black Rob Report failed to move any units, I highly doubt whatever the singles were from the project were connecting in Harlem and nowhere else, but I could be wrong.

The Black Rob Report is a very loose concept album based around a story that finds our host facing trial, with the court proceedings interrupting the project every once in a while. I have no doubt the legal system was pressing on his mind at the time: the very next year, Rob was sentenced to seven years in prison on a grand larceny charge he picked up in 2004. He was also dropped from Bad Boy Records shortly after The Black Rob Report was released, but if we’re being fair, there aren’t any artists from the roster who have stuck around since the early part of the millennium, except for Puffy himself.

I’m hoping for a diamond in the rough, but the fact that Rob jumped ship to Duck Down Records shortly after leaving prison isn’t giving me any lofty ideas. (Rob is currently on the independent scene.)


Not only does Tony Dofat’s instrumental have its drums pitched higher than Black Robert’s vocals, it also runs slightly faster than the man is used to, resulting in an awkward off-beat performance that is all the more frustrating because of how lengthy his single verse on “They Heard I Got Life” is, a feat that would be more impressive if you could make out any of his goddamn performance. All I could hear was a monotonous flow (not a criticism) and some boring, cliché-ridden bars (definitely a criticism), along with some homophobia tacked onto a line that could be seen as retroactively questionable, given said homophobia. To be honest, all I could think of while this shit played was how Black Rob ended “Courtroom (Intro)” with a joke about taking a dump. I mean, who fucking does that?

Our host adopts a rhyme scheme that fails to suit him on Dofat’s instrumental, spitting generic street bars that are as uninspired as this paragraph I’m currently writing. I remember really enjoying Life Story, but I cannot hear why I would have liked that project all that much on “Watch Your Movements”, as all of the ingredients sound like store brands that don’t capture the flavor or the essence, Black Robert’s performance barely passing muster. Akon occupies the guest artist slot on here, and to his credit, he sounds exactly like Akon, doing Akon things so that Akon can cash a check made payable to Akon. As you can tell, I struggled writing these few sentences: I have no clue how I’m going to get through the rest of this album.

This instrumental from The Buchanans is the most engaging of The Black Rob Report so far, which isn’t saying much, as it’s still pretty poor, with its use of what sounds like elements of Boogie Down Productions' “The P Is Free” built in nonsensically. On the lyrical front, Black Rob isn’t saying anything, but at least (a) he sounds awake, and (b) you can actually hear the motherfucker. “Star In Da Hood” is a victory lap for Robert, the only rapper from Spanish Harlem to earn a platinum plaque (even though nobody cops to owning a copy of Life Story aside from me), so his bars reflect that, and nothing more. This is the aural equivalent of a man resting on his laurels, but this is hip hop, and you’re only as good as your last hit. Fuck, I really don’t want to finish this post.

I don’t wish to be misunderstood here: Mr. Porter’s instrumental for “She’s A Pro” is bad. As in not good. However, I have to mention that it’s also damn near Dilla-esque (save for the stupid vocal sample looped endlessly that Black Robert uses to fill in the word “ho” throughout this dumbass exercise in both misogyny and agency), which automatically classifies this as the most interesting track on The Black Rob Report thus far. Our host’s flow over this garbage is casual couture: he isn’t so invested with this tale of acquiring a new female fuck buddy that he can’t bail on the entire concept at the drop of a dime, and the artist also known as Kon Artis’ singing on the hook is just… please, just skip this song, I beg of you. It was bad enough that I had to listen to it.

Does this skit exist solely because our host loved his boy Petey Pablo’s impersonation of a racist white cop or something? Because that is, in and of itself, pretty fucking racist. And why include the late Craig Mack (R.I.P.) if you’re not going to ask the man to rap something? The fuck was this, man?

Kind of hilariously, our host claims that Coptic’s instrumental for “B.R.” was an “interlude beat” that he couldn’t resist rapping over. It is a decent beat, though: so far it’s the one in its class that is most likely to have appeared on Life Story, if that’s how creativity and time worked. Black Robert sounds awkward as fuck, though: he doesn’t seem to be wholly comfortable with the instrumental he just had to chop it up over. Whatever, at least it’s short, since it was supposed to be a fucking interlude, you see.

Oh man is this corny as hell. Up until the “hook”, it’s easy to appreciate “Ready”, with its Scram Jones-produced marching band feel and some decent street raps from Black Rob, even with its forced homophobia at the very beginning that dates this shit significantly. But then said “hook” kicks in, and not only does it disrupt any momentum there may have been with its cheerleader chant, it retroactively makes you absolutely hate every single person involved with the creation of “Ready”, as there is no way something as awful as this should have made it outside of the Bad Boy conference rooms. Scram, you should have known better.

9. B.L.A.C.K.
There is literally no way this is the same guy that wrote Life Story.


When telling the tale of a man who has something to look forward to when he’s finally released from prison, it’s important that the music played underneath skews hopeful, but reflects the seriousness of the protagonist’s current situation. So why the fuck would Black Robert select a phony calypso-type beat for “When You Come Home”? The performance at least ties into the loose storyline on The Black Rob Report, as does the title, but the instrumental? Fuck no. The concepts clash so much that migraines will be induced. As for the bars themselves, well, our host is no Cormega on “One Love”. (That wasn’t a typo. Nas has never been to prison.) I’m at the halfway point of the project and having trouble finding the motivation to finish this post. It’s a problem.

When this beat kicked in, I was immediately drawn to how Wu-Tang-esque it sounded. Turns out this is because it was produced by Wu-Element True Master, which makes perfect sense: “You Know What” has an instrumental that could have easily slid onto a project from Inspectah Deck or maybe Cappadonna. Black Robert doesn’t waste it, either, reviving his quieter, more focused flow to boast-n-bullshit. The “chorus” consists solely of excerpts from a speech (or speeches) from Louis Farrakhan that are so lengthy that the man himself receives a feature credit on the track. Could have done without his “contribution”, as it runs the risk of making this seem preachy, but overall “You Know What” is enjoyable. About fucking time that happened on The Black Rob Report.

Same deal applies here regarding The Notorious B.I.G.’s guest credit: the hook consists of a line from his “My Downfall”, albeit one much shorter in length than Farrakhan’s inadvertent hypeman role on the previous track. My instinct is to say that Puff Daddy was hoping to trick consumers who wouldn’t have looked for a Black Rob album in the first place into thinking our host dug deep into the vault to find a hidden gem, even though every Biggie verse the man ever recorded had already been released in some fashion by this point. Anyway, this song is fucking terrible. Black Robert sounds like a street rap amateur over the weak-as-fuck D-Dot instrumental, I suppose it was pretty selfish on my part to have hoped The Black Rob Report could have given us two decent tracks in a row.


Hey! Do you remember Ness from Da Band? It’s okay if you don’t: it’s likely that the Philadelphia-based emcee wouldn’t even recall his own tenure in Puffy’s reality show-turned-rap group (aside from that one Chappelle’s Show sketch, anyway), and after hearing his performance on the middling D-Dot and Tony Dofat-produced “Fire In Da Hole”, you won’t be looking him up, either. This was pretty awful, folks: it was middle-of-the-road street rap with no respect paid to the listener, as both Ness and our host struggle to give one ounce of a fuck about their craft while spitting rote boasts-n-bullshit. Sigh.

Black Rob’s bars on here prove that he’s aware of the existence of other songs. Which is the only nice thing I can say about it, and if you’ll notice, that plain description doesn’t even qualify as “nice”.

Let’s be real with one another: even if I say that Dofat’s instrumental for “Warrior” was alright, if a bit elementary, and that Robert’s verses were delivered with something approximating competence, you just won’t care at this point. Even though it’s true.

There was once a time when a song such as the label sampler “Team” would have featured Black Rob’s former coworkers The Lox and Ma$e, and maybe Total or 112 on the hook. But no, in 2005 our host shared a cubicle farm with the likes of (*checks notes*) Boyz n da Hood Featuring Young Jeezy (not their actual group name, but it makes me laugh, anyway), Yung Joc, Danity Kane, and 8Ball & MJG (actually, that last example doesn’t mesh with the joke I was going for, that collaboration could have worked), along with (some of) the stars of the reality series Making Da Band, his co-conspirators on this posse cut. Given the level of talent involved, neither of you two will give a shit about this Tony Dofat production, although I will say that I’ve certainly heard much worse. And as for the version of “Team” I dreamed up in the opening sentence, it already exists: it’s called “24 Hours to Live”, and it appears on Pastor Ma$e’s Harlem World. So go listen to that one instead.

The beat, credited to both D-Dot and Rudy Roxx, is horrible on here. Black Rob sounds like he recorded this shit in a saloon with a rude bartender that questions the motives of each and every patron while constantly cleaning the same glass with a dirty dishrag. Not an endorsement.


As though he were anticipating my saloon comment from “Help Me Out”, Black Rob drops a reference to the O.K. Corral for the listener to pick up on “Long Live B.R.”, a Nashiem Myrick-produced attempt at an overall thematic statement for our host’s career thus far. He sounds relaxed on the track, even when he talks about getting his salad tossed, which still isn’t something most rappers would admit to even today, when every millennial loves to talk about eating ass, so that was something, I guess. Our host doesn’t sound that bad on here: even with the crappy hook, this hews pretty closely to the Life Story playbook. But it’s too little, far too late for these shenanigans.

And then you don’t even get to hear the fucking verdict. Creative choice, forcing the listener to reframe the album in their minds? Or some lazy bullshit designed to piss me off? You get to decide.

THE LAST WORD: So The Black Rob Report sucks. Incredibly so. Even though it theoretically consists of most of the same ingredients as his breakthrough debut, Black Robert can’t conjure up the same magic. Most of the instrumental backing fails him, as they don’t play to his strengths, but what strengths even remain at this point? I mean, the man’s lyrics sound clichéd and unoriginal, as he weaves the same tales we’ve all heard for fucking decades at this point, and his boasts-n-bullshit are tired. None of his talents are on display here: it's as though they're always obscured by a tall dude who sat directly in front of you and, frustratingly, then called all of his tall friends from the tall guy support group to take the seats along each side of him. In the rare instance when he’s successfully able to connect all of the dots, the songs still manage to sound somewhat empty, as though the pending trial was causing Robert so much anxiety that he couldn’t focus on the recording process, but he still wanted to keep his name alive in our chosen genre while he was locked up. It took the man three years to drop a follow-up to Life Story, but it still manages to sound rushed, even with the loose concept the album is built around, which has zero payoff and was entirely unnecessary. Our host’s efforts to play nice with his new coworkers even come up flat: surely he was friendly with other New York-based rappers and producers who would have done him a solid at this point, right? The Black Rob Report was a crushing disappointment, one that can only be remedied by listening to Black Rob’s best work while banging your head against a nearby wall until you can see the knowledge of this album’s existence leaking out of your ears.


There's a bit more Black Rob to be seen by clicking here.


  1. nah, I'm good. I enjoyed life story, though. After listening to track 11, did you listen to Xzibit's Release Date to cheer you up and remind you how it's done?

  2. This sounds like a very grim, depressing affair. In 2005, the UK magazine Hip Hop Connection ran a special listing their top 100 albums from 1005 - 2005. This album was ranked somewhere in the 90s/80s, so that is interesting........I remember a lot of readers bemoaning several such entries on the list though.

    1. Hip Hop Connection also once named my blog as one to watch, so they get it right at least once in a while.

    2. They also once ran a hip-hop blog World Cup where I think you got to the quarter-finals. I can't remember which blog knocked you out though. It was a pretty great magazine with a very high standard of writing. I was sorry when it finished. It was one of the few publications, much like your blog, that inject a healthy dose of humour and appreciate how utterly ridiculous rappers are as people.

    3. I think it's publication law that any "Top [XX]..." list (where XX ≥ 50) has to have at least one indefensible, or at least, bafflingly ranked, entry. Complex magazine's "Best 100 Hip-Hop Instrumentals" a few years back -- a transparently terrible idea because of the sheer scale -- catching similar heat online for the same reasons. And I recall going "what, wha--?" when Passionweiss put Mannie Fresh in the #17 spot on its 50 Best Rap Producers list. (To be clear he absolutely should be on the list, just about 10 or so spots lower given the other slots). The main issue here is that if your sampled population is too big -- as with the Complex list, which was a transparently terrible idea -- it's really hard to come up with a list that's neither stuffed with WTF or just a recitation of popular canon; if there is a reasonably-set canon, it's just an issue of shuffling the rankings to be "not-straightforward but not risible."

      On a related note, I noticed that white music critics seem to have an inordinate love affair with "Big Pimpin'" -- Rolling Stone & Vulture put in Jay-Z's top five songs ever (pre-The Carters), when it pushes #40 at best.

    4. I only really took notice of the magazine when the blog was mentioned in it, but I did like their point of view. It's a shame the good magazines have either fallen or closed up shop. Am I the only person that remembers Blaze? That one was okay, if I'm thinking of the right thing.

    5. @Brandon - I think many look at "Big Pimpin'" as entry-level bounce music, as the only barrier for entry is whether or not you care to hear curse words. It's also undoubtedly the first and only time those particular white music critics ever listened to UGK, too.

    6. @Max: Given that it's the best UGK performance o the only three UGK songs they've ever heard that makes sense, though I've never thought of "Big Pimpin'" as being particularly representative of bounce music. (Still humorous, given that Jay-Z regrets the song and Pimp C reportedly loathed the instrumental).

      FWIW here's the Passionweiss article I was talking about – a lot of unconventional choices & rankings, but only one or two that are really out of left field – I actually think the ranking of Alchemist < Havoc < Buckwild < Muggs is largely correct and am pleasantly surprised at ONP & Q-Tip 's placements. Personally I would have put Fresh in Erick Sermon's spot; knocked Sermon down 5 or 10 notches; put DJ Paul+Juicy J with Pimp C & Mike Dean, one after the other in any order; and switched DJ Quik & Dr. Dre's spots:

      …on a related subject, ever notice that EPMD is one of a very few production duos/posses (i.e.,: who produce & bill beats as a unit) where we've all agreed that one guy is a much better producer than the other, despite nominally-equal billing?

    7. I'd have to respectfully but aggressively disagree with your view of EPMD. Fresh is nowhere near the conversation when it comes to comparing him with Parish Smith, who's equally the impactful producer as Erick Sermon, seeing as he's the one who mentored him in the production game. Not to mention that EPMD, both in equal measure, pretty much reinvented the wheel when it comes to production techniques. They're the most sampled act in hip hop history for a good goddamned reason.

      I have to mention Erick's achievements with his Def Squad brethren 93-97 as yet another reason why Fresh, despite commanding respect with his work, can't ever come close to him.

    8. 1) I agree that Erick is better than Parish, but that may be just because he's produced so many more songs that he's had much more time to practice.

      2) I think there's an interesting question buried within shoe-in's response. Is PMD equally as impactful as Sermon in the rap production game just because he mentored Sermon? I mean, RNS helped RZA in the early days but nobody cares about him. Havoc wrote Prodigy's first rhymes but nobody ever says Hav is just as good a lyricist. No judgement, but this may be worth a discussion.

    9. I advise anyone still doubting what PMD can do behind the boards to go listen to the beats on his solo debut. Except for Max because he's reviewed the album already. Aside from his work on the lead single, I truly believe that every beat on there conveys a sense of melancholy in an ensnaring way, which was always the intention. PMD's a master, even if one who refuses to go outside his comfort zone, very much unlike Sermon. E-Dub shattered those walls back in 95-97. That's why the EPMD comparison is different from RNS/RZA & Havoc/Prodigy.

      That, and RNS didn't really play any role in actually mentoring RZA and Prodigy actually did write rhymes prior to Juvenile Hell. He's the little rapper in Too Young off the Boyz In Tha Hood OST.

    10. i would argue the willingness to step outside his comfort zone is what makes Sermon a more influential and, oh, let's just say better producer than PMD though

  3. Terrible Album considering how good Life Story is.

  4. Who's the best rapper from Albuquerque, New Mexico?

    1. Can’t believe no-one got it smh. Xzibit is the only established artist from there.

    2. From, sure, but he doesn't exactly rep ABQ like Black Rob reps Spanish Harlem. If he shows up in the background of a future episode of Better Call Saul trying to renew his driver's license or something, I may reconsider.

  5. Max doesn't give his readers what they want, he gives them what they need.