Free At Last
The Luniz' star makes some of the best verses of his solo career, but is it lost in a 22-track, 80 minute schmorgesborg?
Split pretty evenly into club and street tracks, Yukmouth’s goal on Free At Last is to prove that freed of label quagmires, he is a durable veteran, still making great music. In the early goings, he succeeds wonderfully. The first half of the album is accentuated by slapping drums, numerous guest appearances, and Yuk’s go-to trap talk. The second half features pretty much the exact same things, but to extremely diminishing returns.
As said, the first half of Free At Last is frequently thrilling. Yukmouth's title track is clearly his best. Over a towering beat built from booming drums, ringing piano keys, and ominous horns, The Luniz breakout star tells the story of his life and proclaims on the era-worm hook that he’s free, free of previous label commitments clearly but also seemingly free of resentment and bitterness. Or he is at least attempting to be in lines like “I don’t want to sue J. Prince / So you should let me leave / Turned my last album in the mixed it fucked up / The master all fucked up / They try to fuck me up / But I got love for J. Prince and the Lot / Now I’m on my own label and I’m gettin’ that guap.” “Laughin at You Clownz” is a celebratory track with a beat augmented by jangling tambourines and arrogant guffaws, a convincing attempt to show the mid-'90s star as current. He steps up with some of his better lines here like, “I hit more niggas with elbows than Jake the Snake / Let a boss nigga ball and let the haters hate / Since a teen I sold base like an 808.” Slinky club track “They Can Smell It On Me” also finds the East Oakland emcee shining lyrically with lines cleverly referencing his commercial heyday: “Promethazine and sprite, yeah I keep that purple poured up / Geeked up and locc'd up / Doing yellow double stacks / Still screamin’ ‘five on it’ / Five stacks for the pack.” “100 Brick Boy” has a fantastic “blown-speaker” sound. The distortion on the drums and keys create an intense, off-the-wall atmosphere that Yuk keeps up with easily with outrageous lines like, “Countin’ 500 stacks in the morning watching The View / Got two goons at the door with choppas watching the crew.” Follow up “Let’s Get It, Let’s Go” maintains the deliriousness. A relatively short posse cut that manages not to drag and features over-the-top guest spot from Lee Majors, Freeze, and Regime affiliate Ampichino who delivers the most outlandish, and best, lines: “Illiterate dough, stupid-ass paper, retarded ass chain, goofy-ass bracelet.” “The West Iz Back” is a convincing, high-energy recreation of mid-'90s G-Funk with wheezing synths, catchy guitar line on the verses, and a knocking beat throughout. The only real misstep on Free At Last’s first half is 211, a disturbing tale of home invasion. Over Horror film pianos and bells Yuk and guests the L.E.P. Bogus Boys paint a frighteningly real portrait that can surely be written off as a character piece but with lines about raping a victim’s wife and duct taping his kids that justification doesn’t make it any more enjoyable to listen to.
That brings us to the aforementioned lesser half of the album where Yuk starts to repeat himself to an unreasonable degree. “Rise 2 Da Top’s” trap talk and crack cooking lesson is reminiscent of songs that only ended a few minutes ago. This is Yuk’s territory, and it’s hard to criticize a guy for sticking with a style he has mastered but with so many like-sounding and like-minded tracks it’s not impossible, either. “So Trill” again is more of the same, trap talk that seemed far more enlivening over the albums first half. It’s hook also resembles the chorus of Clipse’s “Trill” a bit too closely. “The Hard Way” is a retelling of the tired story of the girl who comes to Hollywood only to be used up and spit out by the star-maker machinery. At this point there really is no insight to be gleaned from lines like “She ride that white horse / She live that high life / She like to party hard / Hang with the movie stars.” “That’s Outta Here” may be a sarcastic denouncement of kids with short attention spans but more likely it’s a couple of veterans trying to wrestle control of the zeitgeist away from younger taste-makers. It’s both a pretty shallow listing of trends and an odd look from a guy who’s been around a few years and still wants the public’s attention. The rest of album is fleshed out with songs like “Smokin’ Treez” and “Pac Man,” which feel generic with by the numbers production and phoned-in guest spots. Only “Hubba Rocks” rises above the mire to distinguish itself with busy production bursting at the seams with organs, Soul samples, steady drums and a distorted, hectic chorus.
There is just too much material on Free At Last, from exceptional to forgettable. The good sloshes around with the bad and at the end of the 80 minute disc the listener is left with a mixed impression that may prevent them from revisiting the record. And that would be too bad because Yuk more than proves himself relevant on half the tracks on Free At Last. He still has the skills, now all he needs is an editor.