A Legend is defined as someone one who is extremely well known, famous, renowned, a prodigy, and a star. That is what AZ is anointing himself on his album “Legendary,” and after a career that has spanned over 15 years, one can argue that it is well deserved. Many cite him as one of the best and most underrated rappers, giving him additional respect for making music that appeals to true hip hop fans instead of the radio stations.
Since landing on the scene with Nas on “Life’s a Bitch” in ’94, Brooklyn born AZ has consistently put out albums that make these fans proud. In fact, he has basically stuck with the same formula: combining slick wordplay, an amazing flow, and utilizing beats that embody the essence of the New York hip hop scene. Although his career might not have played out as he envisioned, it is an accomplishment in itself to last in the industry this long. What’s more, he has always stayed true to himself and his roots, never relying on gimmicks to get his point across. His music gives off the impression that he doesn’t care if he sells one or one million records as long as he makes real hip hop.
A quick glance at the cover of this album and he is able to perfectly capture that attitude visually. He stands beside the words “Legendary” decked out in a plain black tee shirt with a plain back fitted hat with the New York City skyline in the background; a very modest cover and AZ wouldn’t have it any other way. With the release of this 8th solo album “Legendary,” he has the opportunity to convince any doubters that he is deserving of legend status.
The album opens with “Da Truth,” an introduction over the type of soulful beat that he has become “well known” for using on each of his albums. My only issue is that he lets this gem of a beat go to waste without spitting a verse over it. However, this is quickly forgiven when we hear classic AZ on “Livin the Life.” Even in the absence of big name producers, he still manages to find the right people to craft exactly the types of beats he can vibe with. As is customary of his career, he uses a beat fueled by a sped up, classic soul sample, and rides it with his “famous” flow. This is where he is at his finest and it’s obvious he is still at the top of his game.
His seemingly effortless delivery is another element that has made him “renowned” and this is very much present on “Before It’s All Said and Done.” His ability to creatively put words together with a tight flow is matched by only a few in hip hop today:
“Posting in the grain, hear the calling of the wild
See the birds in the air, hear the bears on the prowl
Chilling like a villain, got them mirrors on my ceiling
Pillow top on the bed, taking shots to the head
Flat screen vision, it’s that happy king’s living
Far from the stars and the bars and the prisons
Being where I’m from, I was told when I was young
Do it big at least once before it’s all said and done”
Not only do his advanced flow and delivery make him a “prodigy” talent-wise, but it’s also clear he’s very smart and has an understanding of what it takes to continue to make real hip hop music. He shows this understanding on “Poli with the Villains,” where he claims: “This ain’t radio ready, this is mixtape heavy, for them hip hop heads, every dose is real deadly.” Indeed, this album does not include the type of songs you would hear played by most radio stations. Instead, it’s filled with the kind of music that hip hop purists crave.
However, like most AZ albums, “Legendary” is not without its low points. As has been the case with his past few albums, underwhelming guest appearances are sprinkled throughout. Fellow hip hop veteran Sheek Louch of the LOX makes his presence on not one, but two tracks on the album. It’s almost ridiculous how badly AZ is able to outshine him on “Boy Meets Girl.” In fact, it’s almost as though he only put him on the tracks to show how talented he is in comparison to his peers. In addition, the same beat I was clamoring to hear him spit over from the intro is also used in the outro; it’s like he’s teasing his fans. Finally, when you subtract the pointless skits, the album runs only ten songs and I was left longing for more.
The bottom line is, AZ did not create anything groundbreaking here. What he did was stick to his tried and true formula for making a successful album. This might not be classic material, but it’s enough to satisfy any true hip hop fan. If he is able to maintain his flow and delivery, there is no reason he can’t continue to record music as long as he wants to. After reviewing his career, it’s obvious he possess many of the qualities that would make one a legend in hip hop. On the other hand, he does not possess the “star power” of his peers for never garnering the attention of the mainstream. “Legendary” is not going to make or break his claim to that status, but probably only solidify his place as one of the premier MC’s.