Sam Sneed - Street Scholars
Like academia itself, Street Scholars demonstrates moments of technical mastery, while lacking everyday application.
As one of Rap's first tragedies, Death Row Records proved to have as much controversy as they had talent. While patiently-waiting artists like Crooked I, Nate Dogg and The Outlawz were able to eventually find success later, one talent left stifled in the demise was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's Sam Sneed. A victim of the falling out between Dr. Dre and Suge Knight, Sneed - who strongly assisted several mid-'90s hits for the roster, was forced out with his Street Scholars solo debut in tow.
Fifteen years later, with Suge Knight restrained from the label he helped build, Sneed was brought back in by Death Row's new ownership to release his album. Unfortunately, the 1995 and 1996 material was updated, as a living anachronism, where Sam Sneed shows his abilities as a melodic producer and golden era-trained emcee, but still a man who is out of touch with the musical times.
Although he's historically remembered as one of Dr. Dre's best production partners, Sam Sneed is a talented emcee. "New World Order" is a straight ahead look at greed, politics and conspiracies. The hit-maker sounds more Army of Pharaohs than Death Row here, and it still works. Similarly, "Lady Heroin," a song that Death Row would release without Sam's vocals on the 1997 Gridlock'd soundtrack shows a master of metaphor. Ten years before 50 Cent's "Baltimore Love Thing," Sneed tells the brown sugar story of a love affair with one of the most potent drugs on the street. These moments shine, but show little relation to the thoughtless club pandering of "Gorilla Pimpin'" and nerdcore Rap found in "Marriage." Sam still possesses that full sound and bold concept that helped him make a terrifying track alongside Dr. Dre 17 years ago in "Natural Born Killaz," but the producing-emcee lacks his mentor's ear for what the streets want.
Like the production and the rhyme subjects, much of Street Scholars is disjointed. It's nearly impossible to clean up the cosmetics to an album shelved for a decade and a half. The listener gets that, as some songs sound like cheap attempts at "what Hip Hop sounds like in 2011" and others possess that vintage Death Row knock. The untouched tracks have little in common with the new material in sound, making this less of an album than a demo-like introduction. When it comes to the allure of an album, Street Scholars' out of sync updates tarnish its essential mystique.
Like academia itself, Street Scholars demonstrates moments of technical mastery, while lacking everyday application. No-name guests filibuster an album that was much more interesting in the way it was described as sitting. The audience gets a heavy dose of Sam Sneed's versatile sound - none greater than the sound he carved out in the mid-'90s. The rapper however seemed like an afterthought to the project, and just as he was surrounded by Tupac, Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound, a critical voice is lost in the banter, with a story still untold.