Break down the science of Big Rich’s rap moniker and you’ll also capture the unfortunate essence of his musical persona, along with the music itself. At first glance the name is rather catchy and almost clever, as ‘Big Rich’ could either be an accurate physical description of one rather large Richard Bougere Jr; equally feasibly, it could describe the degree to which this rapper wants to advance socioeconomically– he doesn’t just want to be rich, he wants to be BIG rich. But look closer. If it’s merely describing his rather imposing frame, it’s actually pretty mundane, and not at all interesting. As a metaphor, it’s even less alluring. Making money is about as interesting a rap topic as pimpin’ hoes– that is, not very. In addition, the phrase ‘big rich’ may have sounded clever at first, but after a while it just seems juvenile and ignorant. As the name goes, so goes the album, his first major-label effort that is officially presented by Bay Area legend and current hyphy prophet E-40. It is at times both insanely catchy and extremely annoying, both not-all-that-bad and pathetically lethargic, and both relentless and one-note. In short, then, it is a physical embodiment of what’s wrong with Hip-Hop, and why it’s already too late to care.
Big Rich’s first taste of success in the rap game came in 2002 when he recorded an answer record to JD and Ludacris titled “Welcome to the Bay” (and if you remember how annoying the original was, you can imagine how maddening Rich’s version may have been). Predictably, it was a big hit locally, even getting radio play in between 50 Cent and whoever else was popular back then. This pandering to local sentiments was an easy way to become popular, as is his newest hustle, that of the thoroughly unoriginal (but financially advantageous) tried-and-true thug/gangsta/dealer/pimp prototype. Lyrically, Big Rich adds nothing to this (already beyond tired) convention, instead greedily taking the stock characters and slang of the modern studio gangsta– fill every song with guns, drugs and sex and as little message or even theme as possible; never admit any form of weakness or regret, unless it’s on your keep-ya-head-up or pour-out-a-lil-liquor posse track; and make sure to rhyme “crack rocks” with “stash box” at least five times. Unlike an outfit with more thought invested, like say, the Wu-Tang, who vary their topics considerably and attack even conventional topics with fresh and innovative angles, Big Rich never gets under the surface of the Hustler’s existence. All the props and actions are there, but there’s little here that a computer-generator couldn’t spit out if you fed it enough gansta clichÃ© data.
Call him the West coast answer to Rick Ross, or T.I. without the cleverness/emotion/song structures, but just don’t call Rich selfish. Here he shares the stage on 11 tracks, and with the exception of veterans E-40 and B-Legit stealing the show on “Elbo Room,” none of them are worthy of any mention. They only work to keep every song sounding similar; when one hyphy tear-da-club-up track featuring an undistinguishable guest and a rap about hustlin’ hard by Rich fades out, it is replaced by another. Even variety comes in the form of conventions: there’s the story about a troubled ghetto youth who never had a chance (complete with a crackhead mother and a father in prison) of “Rich Man’s World,” the “everything’s gonna be alright” shallow-upliftment of “To The Top,” even the tired posse cut “Meet the Dealers.” Rich even manages to make the album’s title track sound boring, when the concept is actually pretty funny (naming your album after a 15-year-old children’s cereal slogan, that is).
As for the music, hyphy is hyphy, and here it’s presented in all its glory and its ugliness, with more than a few both highlights and groaners. For me, the bass is way too heavy (I must be getting old, but I’m only 23!), the tempo and sheer energy of each track is initially contagious but after 4-6 songs gets exhausting, and it seems to encourage rappers to be even more simplistic and ignorant with their lyrics. A whole album of hyphy is like eating a few pints of triple fudge ice cream for dinner. But hey, if Shadow can fuck wit it, maybe I can give it a chance. I will, however, need an emcee that can make it more interesting than Big Rich, or at least someone who can at least try to be original.