B.G. f/ Gar - "Whateva U Like" (mp3)
Not my favorite song on The Heart of tha Streetz, Vol. 2 (I Am What I Am) by a long shot, but you really do have to hear the Hurricane Katrina punchline that involves vaginal secretion.

Note: In light of the end of Stylus in 2007, I decided to archive the text of all my reviews for the site on this blog for posterity, since I don't what the future holds for the Stylus domain, and have included both the letter grade ratting that accompanied the original review, and an adjusted rating that I would give the record now in retrospect.

The Heart of tha Streetz, Vol. 2 (I Am What I Am)
Chopper City
Stylus rating: B-
Adjusted rating by reviewer: B

Cash Money Records' only star left on the roster, Lil’ Wayne, may be at a career high point right now, but the long-running New Orleans rap label's disgruntled alumni is its own biggest competition. Juvenile's first post-Cash Money release, Reality Check, became his first #1 album earlier this year. And Mannie Fresh left Cash Money last year after producing 99% of its hits, and is finally becoming the superproducer-for-hire that he's always deserved to be. But B.G., one of the first Cash Money artists to fly the coop, is the most firmly established in his own world now, a respected mid-level star with his own label, Chopper City Records.

The Heart of tha Streetz, Vol. 2 (I Am What I Am) is B.G.'s tenth album since beginning his recording career at the age of 11 as Baby Gangsta. And it's his fourth in as many years on Chopper City Records, proof that his separation from the Cash Money machine hasn't slowed down his grind. But the man who titled his 2004 album Life After Cash Money isn't done fixating on the crew that he ran with for a decade and then divorced from bitterly, and songs like "Living Right" are all about how much better his life is "since I left C.M."

B.G.'s post-Cash Money output hasn't differed from his early albums in many respects, except for the absence of the label's in-house production guru. But now that Mannie Fresh is a free agent, he's hooked up with B.Gizzle once again for Heart of tha Streetz, Vol. 2's lead single, the wonderfully bouyant "Move Around." Although it rides the same boom-boom-clap rhythm as many of Fresh's productions since Young Jeezy's "And Then What," it's perhaps the best use of that formula yet, a rousing anthem about the ubiquity of fried baloney sandwiches in the hood. But the single most thrilling moment of the song is at the end when B.G. lets loose the sound that's become, like Jadakiss's cackle, his vocal calling card: a deep, creaky "WAHHHHHHHHHH." Although "Move Around" is by far the most polished song on the album, his weathered voice sounds like a raw nerve in that one moment.

B.G. has reportedly been clean and sober for three years now, but his past addiction to heroin looms over his recent albums in the form of the damage done to his voice. He's always rapped in a loose, conversational drawl, sometimes talking over the beat as much as rapping. But on The Heart of tha Streetz, Vol. 2, B.G.'s voice is nasal and faded, and perfectly suits all his talk about being a grizzled veteran, even if he frequently gets drowned out by the already subdued production.

The biggest hit from any of B.G.'s solo albums is "Bling Bling," the song that literally changed the dictionary and both defined the zeitgeist of hip hop materialism and gave the backlash a target for its hatred. But "Bling Bling" was a posse cut and Lil Wayne coined the title, and in truth B.G. now seems like a reactionary to Cash Money's extravagant flossing. Instead, he's moved onto the drug dealing raps currently in vogue in the South, frequently collaborating with T.I. "I Ain't Got Nothing" is the obligatory anti-snitching screed, and songs like "Yeah Nigga Yeah" almost gleefully detail the particulars of hustling in the trap.

The Heart of tha Streetz, Vol. 2's guest appearances are almost exclusively by obscure New Orleans MCs. And one guy named Bossman, who appears on two tracks and couldn't ride a beat to save his life, is clearly not the same Bossman from Baltimore who is currently signed to Virgin Records. But "Deuces Up" features Houston rappers Yung Redd and the increasingly tiresome Paul Wall, once again selling 16 bars of the same flow he uses on every song. But the real star of the track is Pretty Todd's barely-there production, all faint ticks and fizzes of percussion around a woozy bassline and distant organ note. The track is too layered and detailed to be described as minimalist, but it's so hypnotically slight and quiet that it stands head and shoulder's above the album's more generic 808 beats.

Most of the media attention to Juvenile and Lil Wayne's recent albums has focused on the one or two songs from each that bear any reference to last year's horrific flooding of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. By comparison, several songs on Heart of tha Streetz, Vol. 2 reference Katrina, although largely by way of passing mentions, with nothing as overt as Juve's "Get Your Hustle On." But B.G. has succeeded in making an appropriately bleak, angry post-Katrina album, whereas Juvenile filled Reality Check with some of the most tedious, monotonous strip club music ever made. Curiously, though, B.G. ends his album with the slick sex jam "Whateva U Like," which contains the single most bizarre and unexpectedly humorous reference to Katrina to date. On the topic of female ejaculation, B.G. shrugs "I ain't trippin' on that, let's sex some more / I been through Hurricane Katrina, I been wet before."

Throughout Heart of tha Streetz, Vol. 2, B.G. trumpets the same comeback he's been talking about ever since he left Cash Money. But he might be onto something, since he's become the most sought after collaborators in the South lately, and has been surrounded by rumors of signing with G-Unit. Last week, though, he signed a contract to move Chopper City Records from independent distribution on Koch to Atlantic Records, with yet another album due out this fall, to be executive produced by T.I. So if this album seems like a minor work in a long and prolific career, that may be because it's about to be outshined by a much bigger project less than six months later.

Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2006-04-10

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