by Dan O
Everyone I know has a favorite Lox member and none of them are shy about making their case. It’s because each of the three primary members feel like people we know but on a Mt. Olympus emcee skill level. Styles P is my favorite because he is everything I love about the neighborhood. P is so blunt in delivery that you’ve never been threatened more nonchalantly. Think about the lead single Good Times where he spits the classic “Imma finish you before I finish the dutch.” I always got the impression that Styles didn’t understand being a trickster emcee fooling your audience and burying references/meanings. He flexes the power of linear thought “I’d rather have an open case than an open face!(Y’all Know We In Here).” P had no room for posturing. In 2002, being on Ruff Ryders gave Styles full permission to embrace all dimensions of hard rock NY content.
At the poetry venue (I helped run) we took smoke breaks when poets on stage were not good(I don’t smoke I just needed to escape sometimes) and I remember talking with the crew about how much Nobody Believes Me meant to us as we watched our cold breath hit the air. Every threat Styles landed hit hard and was always followed by the impact it had on his psyche. The whole conversation with his money that closes Nobody Believes Me is just amazing, starting with “My money spoke to me. It said sh_t, if it wasn’t for his @$$ wouldn’t be no hope for me.” At track 20 its one of the best album cuts in hip hop. A glimmering diamond for those who made it that far. The title track is a banger from Alchemist with an ill chant chorus but the content is his family story beat by beat with dates. I love how genuine this album manages to be while almost pushing 80 minutes.
The sonic texture of the 9 songs is fascinating. Tracks 2 and 3 are very Swizz either directly or in that sonic universe (Y’all Know We In Here is produced by P. Killer Trackz but is very Swizz-like) than you get back to back Alchemist songs on 4 and 5 (the title track and Black Magic) leading to a very Rockwilder beat on 6. Going from the kinetic tight buzz of a Swizz production to the thick chunky soulful ’02 Alchemist works so well especially with a touch of Rockwilder to set things back off. Lick Shots is one of the most interesting Swizz productions for my ears. The background has a bleeding squeek that sounds like Timbaland squeezing a kids toy. Alchemist allowed Styles to hold a sensual tone on Black Magic that we need to balance out the classic Swizz posse cut energy of And I Came To…(Swizz doing his own beat with his mouth at the end is hilarious). Get Paid continues the burble sound base but adds horns and becomes triumphant (shout out The Brodhead Kids). If the DJ Shock produced Soul Clap beat came out on a Griselda project today people would be losing their minds on the timeline. Too often in the universe of early 2000’s NY rap, artists fell into old habits and weren’t providing enough variation in form. A Gangster and A Gentleman has a strong legacy and part of that is how much sonic ground it covers while staying planted in its identity.
This album makes me smile. It’s a collage of images that don’t feel real, from the unbridled goon joy of the 2 minute skit Ass Bag to Jadakiss and Styles finishing each other’s thoughts on We Thugs (My N’s) but most vividly the greatest lyrical Styles performance on the album with Monch on the hook(The Life). Hanging out with Styles feels so natural. He’s your guy, ferociously loyal troubled and willing to crack the world in half to protect what this crew shares. As gigantic as his legacy looms career wise or solely based on this album…I don’t think I’d be nervous if I met him. Styles talked frankly about loving his wife, about racism, about knocking your face off. When his head was in the wrong place he re-aligned it in front of us so we could learn alongside someone we trust. The duality of the title is about being tough enough to navigate this world while not losing your morality. It’s an album where he was learning the responsibility of his powers so in some way we got to hold the lessons he learned. Shaking Styles hand would feel like a continuation of our conversations over the years rather than an introduction.