“Them hundred ki’s you said you flipped in the trap – that’s rap
Max B fightin for that appeal – that’s real
That lil’ bitch you lettin dance on your lap – that’s rap
The fact she molested since she was lil’ – that’s real
Hundred thousand dollar link on your neck – that’s rap
But when them niggaz put that gat in your grill – that’s real
Comin through sittin clean in the ‘llac – that’s rap
When them bullets hittin your windshield – that’s real
There’s a very big difference ‘tween rap and what’s real
When those worlds collide that’s when rappers get killed
Trappers they go to jail, die without leavin a will
There’s a very big difference ‘tween rap and what’s real”
If anybody knows the difference it’s Brian Daniel Carenard (real) a/k/a Saigon (rap). The popular New York rapper doesn’t need to make anything up when it comes to his life – in fact he never even considered a career in hip-hop until he was already doing a prison bid. After bubbling with independent releases and mixtapes for over a decade – during which time he appeared on Entourage beefed with Prodigy, and got stabbed in the head with a wine bottle – his long-awaited retail album “The Greatest Story Never Told” finally came out in 2011. The potential for a letdown after a build-up for that long was tremendous, but if anything Mr. Carenard OVERDELIVERED on his Suburban Noize debut, creating a timeless album that will be studied and imitated for decades.
The challenge for Saigon on “The Greatest Story Never Told Chapter 2: Bread and Circuses” is not that he has to live up to his reputation any more, because he’s already proven all the hype about him was true. Now he faces the true career killer in the rap industry – being a victim of your own success. When you deliver a classic album, anything that follows it is judged in comparison to it. It’s easy to call that an unfair standard, but when you’re capable of greatness, it’s not unrealistic to expect more of the same. The rapper in question should have the benefit of time and experience to grow and mature, and the reputation of being a lyrical maestro that should attract all of hip-hop’s top producers to hook you up. The only impediment to success should in theory be your own effort put in – if you do everything you did before and work just as hard or a little bit harder, BANG you fired off another classic. In practice that doesn’t happen for 99.9% of artists – rap or otherwise. Lasting 2-3 years on top is rare, and having a Nas type run is damn near impossible.
“Bread and Circuses” comes with the good news that Saigon hasn’t changed what works or done anything out of character for him. If you’re a rap fan but not familiar with Saigon (WTF) here’s a short list of his endearing traits: unflinching honesty, a clear delivery of his material, an emotional but not overwrought vocal tone, sharp breath control, and the charisma to personally connect to the listener. Songs like “When Will U Love Me” featuring Andreena Mill have a crossover sound, but that’s not because Saigon came up with a catchy hook or dumbed down the lyrical content. Rich Kidd puts down layers of synth, drum and piano in perfect measure, Mill is a capable crooner who doesn’t overshine her emcee, and Saigon showcases that rare trait of making you relate to his words while he’s “asking life and hip-hop the same dang question” about love:
“Maybe after I’m dead and gone, they’ll get along
Then they’ll look back and see things that I said in my song
Hope I did enough right that it deaded my wrong
If I was to die tonight, I don’t know where I’m goin
Heaven or Hell, I don’t think the reverend could tell
He see I’m addicted, but what started as medicine failed
and left me to dead with a chemical dependency
He act like God with his subliminal supremecy
Talkin like if I don’t get straight, then he could seal my fate
Wait – you could seal a fate – but you can’t rehabilitate?
So now on Sundays I be right here on my perch
I sit across the street and just stare at the church and it hurt
I figure maybe they’ll love me in my afterlife
In retrospect they might recognize what I sacrificed”
Saigon keeps morphing the story throughout the song, switching the “love” to a gun slinging child who doesn’t get what he needs from a neglectful mother, to posing the question to the listeners whether they are giving as much love to those they care about as they should. Suffice it to say if you don’t like your hip-hop to be deep or thought provoking, Saigon may not be the man for you. He doesn’t just write throwaway songs, he wants to engage the listener on ALL levels. Sure his tracks have a beat that bumps and his vocal tone is appealing to listen to, but if you’re paying attention (and should be) then he’s laying his life open, bearing his soul to you and offering you the chance to relate to him. Perhaps it’s not surprising under the circumstances that he’d hook up with Corbett & Lecrae to create a song called “Best Thing That I Found” about spirituality.
And as for guest appearances, Saigon strikes the right note on “Bread and Circuses” by having just enough to keep things interesting but not so many that he comes across the way some rappers do as desperate to be seen as a big deal. He’s not seeking Adam Levine or One Direction to croon on “Keep Pushing,” he’s seeking Chamillionaire. The guests are those that suit his sound such as Marsha Ambrosius on “Game Changer,” Styles P on “Not Like Them” and stic.man of Dead Prez for his “Blown Away (Remix).” If Saigon hits it big on “Chapter 2” it will be by doing him, not by doing what is fashionable for the masses. Therein lies the greatness of Saigon – he doesn’t follow trends, he sets them. He doesn’t set out to be cool, he just naturally is.
If there’s one and only one overriding flaw of such an otherwise excellent album it’s that the production budget seems to have been scaled back – no Kanye, no Buckwild, and a more limited amount of Just Blaze beats. Don’t get me wrong, producers like Shuko still deliver the heat on songs like “Yeah Yeah,” but some songs like “Our Babies 2” and “Forever Dreamin'” are just MEH. Saigon is talented enough and interesting enough to carry them, but the tracks don’t help his cause. There’s enough bangers to make up for the mediocre beats though, and Saigon would be an interesting dude if his album was just him rapping while he slapped his hand on the table to make the track. As a sequel to “The Greatest Story Never Told” some people will feel that it’s not as good as the original, but as for this reviewer Saigon is still that dude who has something to say that’s worth hearing.