Boss Of All Bosses
The album opens with the ominous title track. Producer Terry "T.A." Allen combines looped stings, synths that sound like a church chorus buried in the mix, and ringing bells to announce Thug. The rapper uses his booming voice well but this is all stuff we have heard before. Following that is "I'm Back," a song produced by longtime collaborator Mr. Lee and featuring Devin the Dude [click to watch] on the hook. Both these tracks work really well, if in conventional ways. But just when "I'm Back" looks like it's going to be another (very good) Thug track about how he doesn't need rap, he closes the song with a verse that shows an impressive amount of candor with lines like "I dropped already platinum but it only sold gold/And niggas lookin' at me like I sold my soul / 'Cause I'm rappin' with P. and not Mr. Lee/But when ya on your grind sometimes you can't see." It's amazing to hear a guy, who rarely showed emotion before, be so honest about things other rappers might be embarrassed to admit. Fittingly, he ends the last verse with an ecstatic announcement that "This is a Lee track."
The next three tracks are three of the best on the album and the three least expected. First up is the Flock of Seagulls sampling "I Run," produced by Jim Jonsin [click to read]. With an updated Wyclef Jean [click to read] /Diddy approach to sampling hits, few would have ever seen this song coming let alone it turning out to be a great Slim Thug single. This song has no business working but it does, in a messy, fun way. And even with its goofy '80s sample, Thugga slips in lines about the recession and pleas to President Obama for help. After that there is the Mannie Fresh-helmed track "Show Me Love", which sounds like vintage Cash Money from a decade ago - a summertime potential hit. And that goes double for "Smile," a song that will probably end up being divisive. It opens with music box like melody that continues throughout, it's the aural equivalent of Houston's beloved candy-paint. The track is light and playful, a song for the ladies that isn't slow and full of boring lover-man talk.
Following that unexpected triptych the things get a little hit and miss. "Thug", "My Bitch," and "She Like That," all produced by Mr. Lee, fall into the love song traps that "Smile" so deftly avoids. They are monotonous and patronizing. They are an example of Thug working within a proven formula without doing anything to do raise it up into something special. "Leaning'", featuring UGK [click to read], is a decent song but is covers familiar territory. To some, this song may be discomforting, with verses by Pimp C celebrating Promethazine, a cause of death to the Texas pioneer. Two other collaborations fare better. "Hard," is a great track which samples contemporary blue-eyed-soul singer Marc Broussard's "Hard Knocks." Scarface [click to read] spits a verse which further proves that this man cannot be allowed to retire, ever. J-Dawg's guest verse contrasts well with 'Face and Thugga's, his breathless, manic delivery being the absolute opposite of the other two. On "Associates" Thug gets to Scarface-levels of paranoia and the results are wholly unexpected, a song so bleak and desperate, filled with angry confessions of isolation, that it could be the most surprising track on an album with its fair share. Thug opens with "All my niggas is gone, my down bitch done cut / I got some shit on my dome. Now, did they love me or what? / I'm one deep with my chrome like I ain't givin' a fuck / If I gotta do this alone, fuck it, that's what's up," and he completely gets the mistrust and hurt across.
Ironically a few songs after "Associates" the album closes with the longest, most guest filled, non-mixtape posse cut in recent memory. "Welcome 2 Houston" features from the well known (Chamillionaire [click to read] and Mike Jones) to the legendary (UGK and Lil Keke) to the slept on (Z-Ro and Trae) the track features 14 Houston emcees and should be an epic. But unfortunately, while it is admirable to try and represent your whole city on one track, the song just doesn't work. Any flow the song could have hoped to have is ruined by an overlong chorus which is repeated every two verses. It makes a long song longer, and much less interesting.
That's the lone problem with Boss of All Bosses, there are some great tracks where Thug explores new themes and sounds but they are broken up by tracks that aren't just formulaic but also tired and occasionally boring. This is a shame because it was shaping up to be a Houston Rap classic through its first handful of tracks. What it turns out to be is a good record where a mainstream artist challenges himself and comes up with enough good songs (and some great songs) to make it worth your money. And that is something that can't be said for more than 90% of what is released in any given year.