The LOX have come a long way from the days they were labelmates with P. Diddy and recording tribute songs for Notorious B.I.G. Feeling constrained by the often pop-oriented direction of Bad Boy Records and looking to release hardcore records reflecting their roots in Yonkers (also home to Mary J. Blige) they organized a street-level campaign complete with t-shirts loudly proclaiming “Let the LOX go!” It’s success forced Sean Combs to do just that, and in the years since they released both the group album “We Are the Streets” and the Jadakiss solo album “Kiss the Game Goodbye” on Ruff Ryders/Interscope. Now in 2002 it’s time for group member Styles (Holiday Styles, Styles P., etc.) to drop his own solo album with “A Gangster and a Gentleman.”
Styles is already off to a good start with his first two singles: “The Life” featuring Pharoahe Monch, and “Good Times” b/k/a “I Get High.” The former is an Ayatollah produced track many have already heard via the mixtape circuit or the “Soundbombing 3” compilation, and is a welcome inclusion here. The latter is a smoothed out ode to (what else?) smoking weed built on a Freda Payne sample and co-produced by Swizz Beatz and Saint Denson. Styles may be the most proud marijuana puffer in rap since Cypress Hill and Redman judging by the brazen amount of cheeba smoke shown in his lyrics:
“Aiyyo I smoke like a chim-in-ney; matter fact I –
– smoke like a gun, when a killer see his enemy
I smoke like Bob Marley did – add to that
that I smoke like the hippies, did back in the 70’s
Spit with the finishin touch
Get this that, I’ma finish you before I finish the dutch
I get high like the birds and the planes
I get high when, bullets hit faces after words exchanged
I get high cause fuck it, what’s better to do?
And I’ma never give a fuck, cause I’m better than you”
Styles is on pretty safe ground here, because nobody in rap is going to argue with a song dedicated to chemical dependancy. The quality of the other songs on the album varies widely. On the low end you have “Y’all Know We In Here” with a P.K.iller track so monotonous that Styles tries extremely hard to thug out on the track to compensate – it doesn’t work. The title track “A Gangster and a Gentleman” is the penultimate opposite: an understated and subtle Alchemist melody over which Styles narrates his birth and upbringing in autobiographical fashion damn near cinematic:
“Drink a Olde E and scramble like it wasn’t tomorrow
I’m gettin kicked out of Junior High, thinkin I’m grown
God bust with the yellow rabbit
And I had every color dealt cause we was gettin it on
I was out robbin Mexicans six in the morn’
Mom said I’d had an F again, riffin I’m gone
Nigga get a little loot and he grown, souped in the dome
Fucked me up worse when I went to the group home”
In between these two extremes lies the meat of the album; some of which is prime sirloin and some that’s just fat and gristle. P.K.iller redeems himself with the heavy piano riffs of “I’m a Ruff Ryder” featuring Jadakiss, Swizz Beatz comes correct on “Lick Shots” with The LOX and even DJ Clue produces a suprisingly tight multi-layered track featuring Sheek and Jadakiss again called “We Thugs (My Niggas).” It may not be a coincidence that the songs featuring Styles crew from Yonkers tend to be the album’s best — you may get the distinct impression that they were prepared for a new LOX album and got slid onto Styles album to fill it out instead. The fat that you’ll trim away and discard includes a couple of shockingly bad songs like the Swizz Beatz “And I Came To…” featuring Eve or the DJ Shok produced “Soul Clap” that disgraces the name of the original song by Showbiz & A.G. Other songs like the Tuneheadz song “Y’all Don’t Wanna Fuck” featuring M.O.P. and “Daddy Get That Cash” by Rockwilder, featuring Lil’ Mo are good enough to avoid fast-forward but ultimately not that special.
As a rapper, Styles tends to have a similar problem. Unlike the better known Jadakiss who changes his monotonous flow with the occasional funny punchlines, Paniro just tends to be a hard-ass gangster on and on throughout his songs. Though he occasionally shows his gentleman side with tracks like “My Brother” (a dedication to a fallen sibling) it’s just not enough variance on an album that’s damn near eighty minutes long. You can’t fault Styles for the amount of producers he brought in to try and keep things interesting, or the guest appearances that shored up some of his lyrical weaknesses, but it’s just too much in the end. Calling Styles a whack lyricist would be a lie because he has good breath control, good delivery, and occasionally delivers a roundhouse to the chin that will impress – but he really doesn’t have the stamina to go 12 rounds. That’s why even though a Styles solo is interesting conceptually, he really belongs in The LOX where he can shine in short bursts, just like ‘Kiss before him.