A year beforehand Brooklyn rapper AZ made his debut with Nas on Hip Hop's finest record, Illmatic. Although its mark as the epitome of smooth 90s beats and Nas's poetical flows take much the praise, critics rarely fail to mention AZ who illuminated himself with an unforgettable opening verse on "Life's A Bitch". The pair team up again on a couple of tracks for his solo debut "Doe Or Die" which follows in a similar vein, smooth jazzy samples complimenting rugged grooving drum beats with a barrage of swift, intelligent lyricism that rolls of rhymes faster than you can digest them.
The album defines itself through the lyrical vibes of an emerging Mafioso Rap sub genre, AZ's slick technical flow is idealistic for the fast flipping of crime family imagery, he drops names of known criminal figures between that of expensive brands, luxurious goods and of course plenty of word play in the firearm department. Talk of excessive wealth, luxury living mixed in with the contrasting world of government agencies spying and the paranoia of Illuminati organizations paints the tone intensely. Samples clipped from mafioso movies and slick instrumentals find themselves on a similar wavelength however the production is rather varied, the title borders on a West Coast G-Funk sound with its ghetto whistles for a song fondly reminiscent of Skee-Lo, while other tracks like "Sugar Hill" move on different vibes with deep rumbling low-fi baselines and R&B singers in the choruses.
Eleven tracks handled by nine produces is understandably mixed but a few weaker cuts have it falling short of variety as a strength. It strikes pure gold when AZ and Nas team up on "Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide" the two teeing up their best rhymes, sweating out luxurious criminality spoils between the violence and murder. Much like Nas, AZ paints a vivid picture with his words, and that technical, swift flow of his is engrossing, especially when he drops into story telling. He brings a wealth of material to the mic but somewhere between his abundance of talent and varying degrees of production it feels as if the brilliance is only glimpsed at. Immensely enjoyable record but leaves me feeling it fell short of being truly special.
Favorite Tracks: Gimme Yours, Sugar Hill, Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide, Doe Or Die