November 7th, 2006 marks AZ's sixth solo release in 11 years. That's right, more than a decade after the (heavily-regarded-as) classic Doe or Die of '95, and despite never having co-hosted TRL, Anthony Cruz has built one of the stronger catalogue's in Hip Hop history. While not everything he's put out has been money, the lot of AZ is pure dopeness. Last year's A.W.O.L. reflected a veteran emcee that has come to terms with who he is and his contributions to the art. This year's The Format, the debut off of his own Quiet Money/Fastlife Music builds on this by showcasing a confidence and maturity previously unseen in AZ records.
From the get-go, and with the help of a diamond instrumental by M.O.P.'s Lil Fame, AZ stands tall to let everyone know who the fuck he is. "I Am The Truth" sets the tone for the entire album - there aren't many dudes out there that spit with so much passion, and with such a raw east coast flavor. Billy Danze joins ship on "Sit 'Em Back Slow" and, believe me, AZ steps up to the plate and amps you up to start body-checking people as if he were the third Mash-Out member.
Little Brother shows up on one of the best collaborative efforts in years. All three verses on "Rise and Fall," a joint about dudes who made it to the top and ended up losing everything, are absolutely ridiculous. Statik Selektah chops and screws a Biggie sample on "Animal" while Anthony drops knowledge about what the industry does to people, and how he so successfully managed to beat the machine.
The standout track of the album comes with the help of a soul sample provided by J. Cardim. On "This Is What I Do," Cruz rhymes for two minutes non-stop about nothing...really. AZ strings together a ton of shit that just sounds dope and literally expresses nothing more than his love for Hip Hop. Longtime compadre and living legend DJ Premier himself lends his genius on the album's title track as AZ continues to smoke the microphone. The Format is proof that no one else does it like East Coast generals.
I'd like to think that this record is fire from top to bottom, but unfortunately it isn't. AZ spits heat from front to back, but the truth is I fail to see why "Doing That" is on the album. It's a dope song, but the beat just seems way too plastic and paper thin to be on the record. Emile, Phonte, J. Cardim, Statik and Fame all lace an album built on that mature and musically full sound , while "Doing That"'s beat [also done by Fame] blends so poorly I had to dedicate a paragraph to how much it doesn't fit with the rest of the album. This is really the only low point on The Format to be honest.
Ten years later, AZ has supplied fans with his best album since Doe or Die. He's the epitome of the East Coast rapper with a flow and level of realness and raw street mentality that new jacks today can only dream about. What's ironic, though, is that because of this, he'll never get the attention he deserves, The Format says this. Luckily, The Format also says he's got 4 more albums on the way. Now, he may never go platinum or hit #1 on the Billboard, or even get voted in on "106 & Park," but I don't give a fuck - AZ is the truth.