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9 November, 2005@12:00 am

    The dreaded “P” word.  It haunts us all, but some more than others.  Potential.  It’s meant to be a compliment, but sometimes it ends up being more curse than gift.  Towards the end of Michael Jordan’s career, sportswriters across the country couldn’t wait to proclaim the “next MJ”.  Remember the list of next-in-lines?  Harold Minor, Jerry Stackhouse,  Vince Carter.  Each showed flickers of greatness (*cough* potential *cough*) but for whatever reason, it just never worked out.   

     Maybe the expectations were just too high.  Jordan was a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.  The same could be said about the immortal opus “Illmatic”.  It just doesn’t happen every day.  When AZ spit lines of fire on “Life’s a Bitch”, p-bombs were dropped by everyone speaking his name.  Fair or not, he would forever be defined by that verse and anything less would be a disappointment.  A grip of solid (unjustly hated-on) albums and over a decade in the game, Anthony Cruz still hasn’t reached the “potential” industry insiders envisioned back in ’94.  Damn, if God’s Son has to fight off comparisons to “Illmatic” for every new album, imagine how AZ feels.  The unfortunate part is that many fans use this as an excuse to snooze on the Sugar Hill shooter.  Don’t.  If anything, dude is getting stronger.  2002′s “Aziatic” raised eyebrows and AZ keeps the momentum going on his latest effort, “A.W.O.L.”, proudly released under the umbrella of his new label, Quiet Money Records. 

      The album starts off with banger after banger.  “So Sincere”, “Never Change”, and “Can’t Stop” are all single-worthy, but it’s the Raekwon and Ghostface Killah assisted “New York” that’ll blow down the house.  Remember how ill the “Run” track was on Ghost’s “The Pretty Toney Album”?  The Emile-produced “New York” sounds like that cut after a case of Red Bull.  The three microphone titans don’t disappoint either. 

     After these four appetizers, the album falls back to earth with a few mediocre songs.  “Still Alive” is a radio rotation wannabe, but with a twist.  If you really listen to the lyrics, AZ is spitting street heat, but the corny, rubbery beat ruins it.  Gotta love the chunky, hollow drums on “AZ’s Chillin’”, but the obvious cover sounds dated and boring, especially when AZ’s strength is his liquid flow.  He slows it down to fit the beat, but it just doesn’t sound right.  “City of Gods” isn’t bad, but “Street Life” is.  Guests Half-A-Mil and Begetz just aren’t up to par.  “Bedtime Story” is a likable tell-tale track, but I can’t shake the nagging sense that AZ’s delivery sounds like a bootleg copy of Jay-Z’s style.  It’s the rhyme structure and syllable emphasis that gives it away.  I know, it sounds far-fetched.  But listen to the track and I guarantee you’ll think “Jay-Z”, when you should be thinking “AZ”.  Not a complaint, just an observation. 

    After a lackluster middle section, Sosa finishes strong.  The Primo-produced “The Come Up” is the album’s lead single.  Literally every Primo track is guaranteed to be hot and this no different.  But honestly, the four opening tracks are better and to that extent, “The Come Up” is a let down.  “Envious”, featuring the reggae stalwart Bounty Killer, takes some getting used to because of the mismatched styles, but it grows on you.  The bonus tracks (“Live Wire”, “Magic Hour” featuring CL Smooth”, and “The Truth”) are the icing on the cake. 

    Overall, there’s not much to gripe about with AZ’s latest offering.  Even on the iffy joints, must of the blame falls on inconsistent production, not AZ’s liquid flow and dope lyrics.  Here’s the rule of thumb: if a Primo track is the disappointment, then you have a fresh album.  You can forget the p-word.  Heads have been too busy yapping about where AZ should be, they haven’t given him credit for how far he’s come.

  Mixtape D.L.
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