Gangsta Grillz

posted November 30, 2007 08:59:46 AM CST | 36 comments

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Few deejays have accomplished the star-building status and massive distribution of DJ Drama. In early 2007, with an album ready to release, that probably hurt the Aphilliates' front-man with a RIAA-inspired raid. Somehow, with a lot of resiliency, and "doing it for Hip Hop," Drama delivers his Gangsta Grillz before year's end, and with the major Grand Hustle/Atlantic machine behind him, Drama stands possible to surpass Khaled as the top-selling mixtape-album-maker since the glory years of Clue and Flex. But with a all the controversy surrounding him and his label - including a legally-forced name change, can Drama get folks to listen to the music before passing judgment?

The answer is yes. The one way to break album sales predictions this year has been solely in the hands of Andre 3000 - just ask UGK. Beyond simply hitting up Three Stacks, Drama reunites Outkast over a delightfully dreary Don Cannon in-house production that celebrates the possibility only found on a mixtape, giving the people the impossible: The Art of Storytelling Part 4. Dazzling wordplay from Andre amidst triumph calls from Big Boi make this the kind of undeniable hit such as Back 2 Life 2001 or Ill Bomb that makes mixtape-albums find the hands of unknowing consumers. However is one enough? Though the surprise is delivered, the expected isn't. The remix to the Lil Wayne-assisted Cannon (Remix) falls short, as does the broken-voiced verse from T.I. that bookends the song.

Drama has not forgotten the underground that supported him. Beneath the Diamonds includes Devin The Dude, Twista and LA The Darkman, three long-time affiliates - the last, a former Wu-Tang Clan disciple, who strangely released a chart-topping album on Atlantic a decade ago. The song allows the emcees to display lyricism respectively - the fast-acting, the hard, then the melodic. These are the choices that made Drama the unofficial A&R to so many artists in the north and south. Largely the lyrical efforts pull from a pack of returning rappers - Freeway, Twista, Young Buck and his Aphilliates and Grand Hustle expected suspects.

Although Don Cannon and Mr. Porter are seasoned producers, much of the music holds back an album from a deejay renowned for his original creations on tapes. Grillz Gleamin' and Talk 'Bout Me feel too sparse in their approach, something that might appear excusable in a three-dollar CD just feels thrifty on a thirteen. Although 5000 Ones has crossover appeal as a posse-cut single, the deeper deliveries largely lack polish and replay value.

Many mixtapes offer a slew of tracks and one or two really stick with you. Suffice it to say that The Art of Storytelling Part 4 contends with nearly any lyrical display on American Gangster or Graduation. However, without the kind of supporting cast needed to make memorable albums, Gangsta Grillz might echo the cliché, "Ain't nothing like the real thing."

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