5 December, 2012@5:43 pm
Over the years, countless rappers have gone head-to-head with their major label benefactors, many times ending up with their albums being shelved or simply being dropped from the roster. In the case of Atlantic Records alone, we’ve seen many of underground rapper at odds with the label, such as Apathy, Little Brother, Lupe Fiasco, and perhaps most famously, Brooklyn’s Saigon. Saigon’s Just Blaze produced LP, The Greatest Story Never Told almost lived up to it’s title, as the album was shelved by the label, staying in limbo for a period of five years. Miraculously never leaking, Saigon finally released it independently in 2011, and follows up with it’s sequel to close out 2012.
While this may seem like a quick follow-up, we can’t forget that The Greatest Story Never Told was vaulted for over five years, so it only seems that way to us. However without the major label backing this time around, Saigon’s sequel doesn’t quite pack the budget of it’s predecessor, thus leaving Just Blaze’s involvement as only an executive producer this time around, producing two of the album’s tracks, rather than the whole LP. While Saigon doesn’t *need* Blaze to make a good album, in comparison to it’s predecessor, his presence is definitely missed.
Still, Saigon holds his own for much of the record, and despite it not having the cohesive nature of his debut, he still has produced a pretty dope LP with many stand-out moments. Saigon is probably the most honest rapper to come out of Brooklyn since Blackstar; a not quite conscious, obviously street dude whose rhymes are laced with gems that leave the listener with plenty to think about. “Rap Vs. Real”, one of the two Just Blaze tracks, is a brilliantly penned track that unabashedly separates various topics into the title’s two categories, such as a lapdance (“that’s rap”) and a stripper that’s been molested since she was a little girl (“that’s real”). We find a similar moment of poignancy on “Blown Away”, which finds Saigon running down a list of assassinated historical figures, stabbing in the hook after each example. On “The Game Changer”, he gives the full tale of his time at Atlantic, revealing a humorous anecdote about collaborating with Trey Songz, while balancing street and conscious styles on “Not Like That” and “Brownsville Girl”.
While the first half of the album has much of the best tracks pushed up front, things do stray off course at times as the album progresses. Much of the second half of the album is littered with syrupy R&B hooks, a risk that only pays off half of the time. “Relafriendship” is a pretty easy concept to grasp, but after the album’s first half dealing with political prisoners and inner city violence, this track seems like a trite, heavy-handed attempt at getting some radio play. The same can be said for “Best Thing That I Found”, an almost Eminem-esque rock-tinged crossover track dedicated to his loved ones. While respectful, again it seems like he’s traveling a bit outside his lane. And not to be nit-picky, but Saigon never really explains what “Bread and Circuses” refers to, he just tells fans to “Google it” at one point on the album.
While Saigon is without a doubt one of the most outspoken emcees in hip-hop today, with one of the most important messages, it’s possible he set the bar too high on his debut. To call this a sequel was a bit of a risky move, because while it will reel in fans of the original Greatest Story Never Told, they will also hold it to that standard. Truth be told, Saigon is making better music than a great percentage of rappers holding major label contracts at the moment, yet on this record he still has to compete with himself.
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