Just the mere mention of Papoose has me reciting Rakim’s legendary lines from 1987’s “My Melody” as the God MC lines up twenty-one emcees that think they can out-rhyme him. Papoose is very much cut from that same cloth, and while he may not have the albums to back up his lofty claims to New York’s coveted throne, an endless supply of mixtapes and guest verses have given Pap as good a right as any to boast about his skills. Papoose could well be the best emcee in New York, all these years later which does him a disservice given how weak the competition is in 2019.
After the decade late “Nacirema Dream” met with a lukewarm reception, Papoose continued to release music whilst supporting his wife, Remy Ma, as she finished her bid in prison and went after Nicki Minaj in that infamous “Shether” diss. That was a couple of years back now, and Papoose remains underrated as far as top-tier lyricists go. The anticipated classic album will likely never appear, but Papoose records always deliver interesting concepts with witty wordplay, and 2019’s “Underrated” is no different.
Right from the first minute, you’re made aware of Pap’s intent. He’s fed up, he’s pissed off and he’s borderline rabid. It’s not surprising given the Brooklyn native puts a lot of time and effort into his bars, often bringing new ideas to his songwriting. Papoose’s most famous moment was most likely 1999’s “Alphabetical Slaughter”, a display of verbal gymnastics that took the concept of using words with the same letter to another level. Blackalicious did it first, but Papoose definitely put his own spin on things. “Numerical Slaughter” is that rarest of records, improving on the original by using numbers instead of letters for inspiration, and a scathing DJ Premier instrumental.
New York may have lost some of its relevance in recent years, but that rich hip hop history runs throughout “Underrated”. “God MC”, a ballsy statement given Nas and Rakim are still around, boasts a stellar Statik Selektah production but its Pap’ that steals the show:
“When they walk up to your casket
Not even your moms’ll kiss you
You always been a bastard,
I don’t think your father miss you
I gotta eat your food ’cause
I’m starvin’, you on the menu
Your manager’s retarded
Regardless for marketing you
I always been the smartest,
A artist, my art official
His job is just the hardest,
His artist is artificial”
The Notorious B.I.G. lends his iconic presence to “BAG”, a street track about earning money that’s eerily similar to 50 Cent’s “I Get Money” in both its nod to New York’s history and its reliance on an infectious hook. Remy Ma shows her vulnerable side on “The Golden Child” as the married couple shares their pain of miscarriage and the plans they have for their children. But the way the beat cuts at the end and you realize they sampled their child’s heartbeat from a scan, was a really nice touch. That’s what raises “Underrated” above 2013’s “Nacrima Dream” – the songs feel more genuine and have an added level of professionalism. The way “Precious Jewel” feels like a love song rather than a mixtape throwaway and the reduced ratio of crime raps only add to what reminds the listener of Cormega’s later records.
If you thought Pap was an ‘old head’ shitting on the newer artists in their “strange clothes”, “Discipline” will only cement that opinion. Essentially a track iterating the lack of discipline in modern parenting, it nonetheless strikes a nerve with many over 30-years old but would be the one song that could alienate younger fans. While the last two songs don’t live up to the rest, “Underrated” is a reminder of what we just took for granted a decade ago. Lyricism and interesting stories condensed in to song-form, with that wordy battle-rap delivery that made an icon of Big L. In the words of Lamont Coleman (because it sums up the mood of “Underrated”): “Some rappers are mad nice and don’t even go gold. I don’t like the way it’s going down because it should be the other way around”.