“Niggaz don’t call me ‘less the video is poppin
Only come around when my new shit’s droppin
Niggaz ain’t nothin but some hound dogs; I betcha
you bitch made niggaz didn’t know that I was the bitch catcher”
Lorenzo Patterson sounds really bitter on “The Villain in Black.” I’m not saying Ren doesn’t have a right to be. N.W.A fell apart, Eazy-E’s passing made a potential reunion even more unlikely, and here he was still signed to E’s Ruthless Records for a three album deal (four if you count his EP). In addition he undoubtedly took it personally that Ice Cube and Dr. Dre had greater solo success than he did, and seemingly never got the dues he deserved for helping pioneer West coast gangster rap. All of that comes to a head on the album’s first single “Mad Scientist.” The Dr. Jam and Madness 4 Real bassline is heavy, Ren talks smack about “too many records out that ain’t sayin nothin/and fake ass radio stations (that) ain’t playin nothin,” and even the song’s title is a reminder that he invented what others imitated.
He’s so mad at the state of rap he’s willing to go WAY back. “Criminal Minded, you’ve been blinded/I’m looking for some shit like that, but can’t find it.” Don’t worry if you’re a West coast hard rock though, he references Ice-T, not just BDP. “Six in the morning, police at my door/niggaz don’t make that kind of shit no more.” If you hadn’t already caught on MC Ren feels like he’s the only real rapper in rap, and consistently dismisses the rest of the scene as “bitch made niggaz” and “hoes” on track after track. That makes the Dr. Jam produced “Keep It Real” doubly ironic though. Instead of innovating a new sound, the N.W.A pioneer goes out of his way to rap over a track that imitates the G-funk sound that blew up in the early 90’s. If you had told me that Dre, Warren G or Battlecat produced the song, I would’ve believed you.
“Now who keeps it real?” This singular obsession with being “real” and not “bitch made” becomes an albatross around Ren’s neck. He tries to change the subject with songs like “I Don’t Give a Damn,” but betrays himself by giving more than a damn in the song’s lyrics. “Fuck the President and his red, white and blue” and “fuck the Grammy show and your mammy” are all the proof you need that he gives MANY fucks. “I don’t give a damn I created this shit/with the real niggaz way back in ’87/niggaz walkin in my footprints in nine-five.” He’s so bitter that he even forgot to rhyme. Lorenzo gives more damns than Hoover despite his claims to the contrary. He can’t let shit go.
It’s genuinely painful to write this because I’m not trying to bag on Ren. I wouldn’t be overstating it if I said to me he was the most underrated member of N.W.A in the group’s prime. In fact when Ice Cube left the crew, he was (to me at least) the glue that held it together when it could have fallen apart that much quicker. Unfortunately on this album “The Villain in Black” it feels like everybody owes him something — the West coast, the rap scene, his own label, and the world in general. I suppose that’s what a classic comic book villain should be — a person who feels any action they take is justified by the wrongs they feel were done to them, no matter how out of proportion to those wrongs their response might be.
Unfortunately in the process of reclaiming his title as “The Villain in Black” he makes himself even more one dimensional than a golden age comic book character. Ren dares the world to “Bring It On” but can’t bring himself to sound anything but apathetic to his own career at this point. It’s remarkable how in less than half a decade he not only got more angry but less energetic in his delivery. He raps slower and shows less emotion than he did on his solo EP or debut LP, and that as it turns out is what he really doesn’t “give a damn” about it. This whole album feels like Lorenzo phoning it in, and despite Above the Law legend Cold187um trying to inject life into it with production and guest appearances, the whole album ultimately falls flat.