Filed under: Album Reviews
This album always seems to get a lot of good press amongst the ‘real’ hip hop community, and on paper it deserves it. It’s 1995, you’ve got Pete Rock, Buckwild and L.E.S. on the boards and an MC coming off the back of one of the most well-known guest spots in the history of the genre (‘Life’s a Bitch’, ‘Illmatic’: enough said). Despite this, I am not a major fan of this release and find both the production and AZ’s mafioso persona a little bit too corny for my tastes.
There is no doubt that AZ has skills on the mic. He has a distinctive and laid back flow that features lots of internal rhyming patterns and I do like his delivery, but I do not feel that he carries the content particularly well. If you take ‘Reasonable Doubt’ and ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx’ as the benchmarks for this particular strand of the genre then in my opinion ‘Doe Or Die’ falls way short. What the aforementioned releases achieve is a dark and harrowing portrayal of a mafioso lifestyle that is matched perfectly with the beats on both albums, and I do not feel that AZ’s debut manages it with the same consistent quality or style. Even the cover art feels a little weak, acting almost as a precursor to the bling era, with AZ flashing some dollars and sipping on some champagne. In basic terms, it doesn’t feel as real as either Jay Z or Raekwon’s first solo efforts.
Of course, this is not to say that this album is garbage by any stretch of the imagination and there are a few choice cuts that make it worthwhile. I like both Pete Rock produced contributions namely ‘Gimme Your’s’ and ‘Rather Unique’, although they are by no means amongst his best work. ‘Mo Money, Mo Murder…’ features a great string loop and Nas returning a guest spot in lieu of AZ’s appearance on ‘Illmatic’. I think that this is perhaps the most successful cut on the album with the two MCs weaving a moody narrative in which they explore the downfall of a powerful crime lord whilst discussing the hold that money has over modern day society. Finally, I like the ‘Sugar Hill Remix’ and feel that it is a significant improvement over its original incarnation with its corny vocal chorus hook and uninspiring beat. Other than that, I don’t think that much of the production elsewhere and find myself particularly disappointed by Buckwild’s contribution that lacks his trademark gritty, dusty sample vibe.
I know that many of you out in blogland have been professing the quality of AZ’s latest release recently, and given that he’s been in the game this long he is doing pretty well to still maintain credibility amongst the discerning online community. The bottom line is that I have slept on his later releases because of my lukewarm feelings about ‘Doe Or Die’. Maybe I’m wrong, but this goes down as one of those albums that whilst widely regarded as classic material, I have never felt it really deserves the high acclaim that it so often receives.