Monday, December 09, 2002
"Thug Lovin" made me somewhat wary of the new Ja Rule album, not because it's a bad song (it's not, really) but because it seemed so unsurprising for a return Ja Rule single (and when you think about, nearly all of Ja Rule's big singles have been quite unexpected). I mean, when the most interesting asset you can bring to the table is Bobby Brown with a throat infection, you've got to start wondering about who's looking after the ideas box. Everything from the relaxed guitar glimmer to the self-pillaging Stevie Wonder swipe suggested that Irv was entering into his decadent late-nineties Puff Daddy phase where everything sounds like everything that has come before, only less impressive obviously (would that make "I'm Real (Remix)" Gotti's "Mo' Money Mo' Problems", then? And, following that logic, "Can I Get A..." his "Big Poppa"?).

Listening to The Last Temptation for the first time turns out to be an oddly pleasant experience though, once you get past the initial impression that it's going to be an accountant's hip hop album (winsome but faintly disturbing Ashanti duet? Check. Token Neptunes production? Check etc.). Specifically, the fourth song "The Pledge Remix" forms something of an early peak with its murkily over-produced atmospheric funk spilling out all over the place, an impressive bursting forth of MOR-hop so excessive, so indecent that it almost becomes avant-garde. Ashanti is singing an anti-hook all over this like an eerily dispossessed - if correspondingly empty - siren. The whole thing, to continue with the Puffy analogy, reminds me of "It's All About The Benjamins", in other words the moment where the hubris of all the collective personalities involved caused the tune to be squeezed out of bed, somehow making the track better for its absence.

Nothing is quite as disquieting, but at the least the feeling of oddly pleasant mainstream oiliness continues on "Murder Reigns", which has a guitar lick that could at any moment burst into "The Boys of Summer" (not the DJ Sammy version), and on the swishing "The Warning", whose refined lounge-funk glide reminds me of the instrumental interludes on Supa Dupa Fly - real smooth shit. "Connected" is even better/worse, with its plangent piano tinkles and some Nate Dogg wannabe crooning the chorus for all the world like it's '92 (sadly this ain't nearly as good as, say, that Kurupt track I just listed). This is the sort of album that you end up liking precisely because it's not a masterpiece; the sort of album that does its best to fill in all the aural spaces you aren't listening for, hanging somewhat limpid in the air between the speakers and your ear, boring, but comforting too.

P.S. Perhaps I should explicitly state that the rhymes haven't sunk in yet, although I should say that on "Thug Lovin", which I am more familiar with, Ja Rule does what I think is some of his best work yet! This is relative, obviously.


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