If any talented rapper can be said to have the curse of Nas hanging over his head, AZ is the one. After a stellar debut on "Life's a Bitch" from the "Illmatic" CD, The Visualiza got pigeonholed as Nas' protege. It didn't help matters that AZ was one-fourth of The Firm - an all-star squad including him, Nas, Nature and Foxy Brown that never achieved the true potential such a grand collaboration could have. RapReviews.com still took notice of his catalogue even when other magazines and sites wrote him off though; 8 out of 10 has been the minimum for each release featured.
Happily "Aziatic" is no exception to the rule. AZ has struggled long and hard to escape the long shadow of Nas, and if Motown puts the right muscle behind marketing this album he'll finally succeed. The production hits all the right notes, from the big names like Dr Period and Buckwild on down to the newer cats like Chop D.E.S.E.L. and Miller Time. Some albums feature great tracks that seem slapped together with rap lyrics at random in a "whatever sticks works" fashion, but these tracks sound as though they were specifically crafted to match AZ's smooth and slightly slurred flow. The truth of the matter is that if AZ really sounds like ANYBODY'S heir to the throne, he would be a second generation Kool G. Rap.
One of the album's most harmonious marriages of rhythm and rhymes is the third track "Wanna Be There." While it is in part lifted from an old school song of almost the same name, the loquacious man nicknamed The Visualiza truly paints pictures with his words of life the way he wants to see it, and be it:
"Lovin the game you gave me, lovin my name is AZ
Never sold millions but fuck it, I'm here to save the babies
Look how a lady raised me, some must say he crazy
I'm just a nigga from Brooklyn reppin the streets that made me
Rappin for quite a while, all around tightest style
One of the flyest with the brightest smile, try me how?
Save all the accusations, keep all the confrontation
I'm sittin contemplatin tryin to crack the combination"
AZ doesn't just spit pearls and diamonds though - he drops a few gems that are a little more radio accessible if any radio programmer was brave enough to put it in the mix instead of another Ashanti or Tweet song. The latter would probably appreciate the sentiments of the L.E.S. produced "Take it Off" though, while the former probably wishes she provided the additional vocals on Precision's "Take Care of Me." This track sounds so much like a Neptunes song you won't believe it's not until you read the liner notes!
For the most part though, AZ does what true heads and his fans appreciate the most - drop the kind of straight up rhyming with no limitations that prove why the Illmatic one tapped him as a partner in crime. Nas even shows up for a duet on "The Essence," which arguably is an even smoother sequel to "The Flyest" from Nas last CD. They trade quips admiring each other's style with compliments that one-up the previous lines, a duet that almost ends prematurely in the first verse when Nas says, "Nigga you James Bond." How much suaver could either MC be? Their chorus says it all though:
"Yo we hard hit, just like Comacho and Vargas
Who's the target? Now watch how we close the market
We both hard hit, just like Hagler and Hearns
Add the math, be concerned, if it's beef you burn
Yo it's sorta like, Poitier and Bill Cosby
'Let's Do It Again,' a beautiful blend, let's do it to win"
There's so much to like here it's really hard to cover it all in one review. From the punchy and poignant "Fan Mail," to the braggadocious brassy horns and flows of "I'm Back," to the blazing Rocky Balboa-esque Buckwild symphony of "Re-Birth," every track serves as a showcase for a verbal virtuoso to flex his technique. The latter song proves he can even bust syllable after syllable non-stop in a flow so perfect you would swear it had to be punched in. Technically you can't prove it's not, but I'll bet dollars to pesos this shit is just pure AZ. The dashes are only inserted to break up his thoughts, since he flows non-stop:
"Flowin for niggaz holdin - my clothin'll get you open
I'm toastin and bitches postin - approachin with mixed emotions
I'm ready like military - I vary like Ben and Jerry's
Compare me to him it's scary - I'm leary of cemetaries
And losin is not inside me - stay movin from paparazzi
I'm provin the angels got me - I'm provin my game is cocky
And money could never make me - my guns they don't come with safeties
I hung with ones that's crazy - I come from the front of Macy's
And shoppin and droppin 80 - showstoppin with proper ladies
I'm hearin a lot of maybes - what nigga as hot as AZ?"
Basically, none. If any downside could be found to "Aziatic" it's that even with a bonus track, at forty-seven minutes it's just TOO short - and I'm not talking about the original West coast pimp. A lot of this summer's albums will be hot in your rotation for a minute, but when you want to come back in the fall or the winter to recapture some of that heat "Aziatic" will have that fire for yo' ass. If it's not his best album to date, it's at least the equal of any reviewed on RR so far.
Music Vibes: 9 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 9 of 10
Originally posted: June 25, 2002