Things sure have changed since “Lyricist Lounge Vol. 2.” At the time “Lyricist Lounge” seemed poised to become a hip-hop trademark, as the name had been parlayed from popular underground compilations on Rawkus all the way up to a TV show on MTV. Despite showing some promise as a variety/sketch comedy show based around freestyle MC’s (if you never saw it picture it as a rough draft version of Chappelle’s Show) MTV scrapped it after one season. These days neither Lyricist Lounge or Rawkus carry much value as a brand name, as the latter has seen it’s thunder stolen by labels like Definitive Jux while the former seemed to disappear from the public eye altogether.
Shockingly enough, when strolling through a Best Buy in San Jose, I found “Lyricist Lounge – Dirty States of America” on the shelf. Now if you try to find any information about this album, you’re shit out of luck. The Lyricist Lounge website is little more than a placeholder promoting a “DVD remix” coming out in July. That’s not July of 2005, or even July of 2004 though – that video was released in July of 2003 according to various online retail websites. So clearly, the Lyricist Lounge website is dead in the water. The distributor Image Entertainment fares a little better, as you can find a short blurb about it on their homepage with a keyword search. “Raw and poignant, often humorous, the film explores the driving forces behind the Southern experience.” Really? That description could apply to just about any good Southern hip-hop album, from Devin the Dude to the Underground Kingz. Not trying to be an egomaniac about this thang, but it looks like RapReviews might be the only site around fin’ to do this album justice. I accept the challenge.
The roster of various artists featured on this album does represent a broad spectrum of the self-described Dirty South. It’s worth noting that the album does sport a dedication “to the memory of Soula Slim,” and he is featured on the excellent all-star song “Fired Up” along with Fiend and B.G. This one is the ideal song to set the tone of the album. Given the different styles and hoods that the rappers on it represent it could have been a horrible car wreck of a song, but Fiend’s pounding beat brings everybody together nicely. It’s kind of eerie to hear Slim say “Is there heaven or hell? Send me where the killers go” on the track; it gives me the same feeling I got from hearing Biggie croon “You’re nobody, ’til somebody, kills you” after he was already dead. R.I.P. to all the fallen soldiers of hip-hop music and culture.
I’m not too familiar with Tampa Tony on the following track, and his “Keep Jukin'” track is a little too jiggy for my taste, but some people may be feeling it. I’m much more interested in the Partners-N-Crime song featuring DJ Jubilee (best known for releasing Juvenile’s first big single) and ex-No Limit rapper Choppa. Things go from hot to even hotter on the Attic Crew’s “Dope Boi Fresh” remix, which reworks the Ohio Players “Funky Worm” in it’s intro, which brings a big ol’ Kool-Aid smile to my face. Between that, the pounding DJ Toomp beat, and the straight up brawling “don’t give a fuck” lyrics, this is one you’ll want to crank WELL past ten. The album hits a peak immediately afterward on the superb “Hold Up” featuring David Banner, Killer Mike and Bun B. With D.B. Crump providing a guitar rock backdrop for these Southern MC’s to thrash over everybody shines, although it’s Bun B who steals the spotlight:
“Well here’s a little story that must be told
About a congregation comin together three-fold
We was chosen for the love not for records we sold
And any one can point at another and say he cold
We committed to the struggle, dedicated to the good
Endorsed by the ghetto, co-signed by the hood
We ain’t sellin wolf tickets, no bluffs bein called in
But they don’t trust me and y’all and the stuff that we involved in
But fuck each other fool let’s take it to the man
They ain’t sayin no to drugs, let’s try another plan
Scream it from your pulpits, make the soapbox stand
Educate the kids and take drugs and guns out of they hands”
I bet a lot of y’all thought Southern rap was just about big ballin’ and skeet skeet skeetin’, yet it’s dudes like Bun B who be dropping jewels in their rhymes when people ain’t lookin’ (free Pimp C). Things slow down a little on the middle of the album. JT Money turns in an okay performance on “Why Cross ‘Em” featuring Nutt, but to be honest I’ve never been much of a fan of his – and apparently he knows it when he says “every year they count the best 50 MC’s, but not once have them cowards ever mentioned JT, fuck you busters.” Fair enough Money, you’re probably better than you’ve been given credit for. Al Kapone proclaims “I’m the Nigga” on his track, but on an album with this many Southern heavyweights, that’s a tale too tall to be believable. Lil’ Boosie checks in with “Worldwide Struggle,” but I’m honestly not feeling his vocals. I know he’s popular in some sets, but to me he sounds like a slightly more mature (lyrically and vocally) version of Lil’ Romeo.
It’s on E.S.G. & Slim Thug’s “Rollin'” that things really pick up pace again, thanks to SIN’s tight beat and the clean vocals of this duo. The song was out more than a minute before Thug started blowing up nationally with “Like a Boss” and “I Ain’t Heard of That,” but here you can hear why he was one of the South’s best kept secrets before that. On the other hand I’m not at all familiar with Ole-E on “Livin’ Comfortable, But Not Good,” yet I’m feeling the slow strummed self-produced beat and the sing-song style of the delivery. You could say that Ole-E is like a crunked out cross between Akon and Nelly, and that works for me. The album’s last three tracks in particular close out hella strong: Tim Smooth & Big Swift’s “Pimpin'” featuring Devin the Dude’s cool cameo, the always underrated Willie D of the Geto Boys on his brash solo track “So What,” and Reese & Bigalow’s “R&B Playa Music” featuring Lil’ G from Silk – that’s CRUNK R&B ya heard? Don’t trip though, it’s not all sung like Ole-E, it’s some hardcore rappin that reminds one of OutKast in style and presentation.
Despite almost no publicity, a dead website, and a trademark that seems to have been rendered meaningless as there’s no real “Lounge” of freestyling underground rappers any more, “Dirty States of America” manages to come off surprisingly fresh and good. It’s a shame that somebody somewhere in 2004 didn’t take a chance on this album and give it a recommendation, but it’s not too old for you to pick up and bump in your ride yet – if you can find it that is. Holla at the Best Buy in San Jose, or get it on the web somewhere. If you’re a fan of Southern hip-hop, this diverse and mostly bangin’ comp is definitely worth your time and effort.