Once again we give it to you raw with no trivia, raw like cocaine - but not straight from Bolivia, this time we're reporting live from North Philadelphia, the home of True Da Hustla, the self-described "unofficial champion of a thing that's hard to explain." Well, let the reviewer try to explain, then. True's trade is the traditional rapper/hustler double duty as maintained by rappers like Jadakiss, Beanie Sigel, Cam'ron and countless others. As of recently, 50 Cent may have gotten the better of everyone in that crowded corner, but it's still an image of undiminished popularity. Nevertheless, True Da Hustla is trying to set up shop in an quite possibly saturated market. "Who am I? / I'm the one stupid A&R niggas is passin' by," he boasts, well aware that he has yet to raise his profile. And so his introduction somewhat straddles the fence between the veteran status a hustler has to claim and the new kid on the block that he actually is, as evidenced by a confusing statement like "I'm back but I never left, matter of fact, shit, I never was here / time to make me appear."
Appear he does for good with his solo debut "The Force". Actually, his first appearance was as one half of the a crew named ATF, but with his partner Slice One doing time, True has to look out for himself. The problem is, his album could do with additional input, just to reduce the inevitable filler. For a full-length, "The Force" lacks variety as far as vocals, lyrics and songfwriting go. However, even at his most formulaic, the Puerto Rican sounds at ease with his subject matter, relating everything in a relaxed manner. Don't expect the cleverness of Jay-Z or the coldness of Mobb Deep, but if you can appreciate rap that speaks the mysterious code of the streets, True may be your man: "True somebody you back up off / fact-report to your mens when he back up north / put your hands on his crack but never come back short / find yourself becomin' food for The Roots like Black Thought."
Much to his credit, "I consider myself one half conscious and one half street" isn't just a standard slogan to True but a motto he tries to live up to on several songs, asking "may God forgive me, Philly put the darkness in me." This darkness is most felt on tracks that consciously reflect on the ups and downs of the fast life. "Until" may be the most sincere one, as True reminisces over slices of chipmunk soul:
"I knew I had to change but I couldn't
until I got signed I knew I wouldn't
I was raised by a strong woman
until she fell to the crack
And yeah, shit hard like that
until it get harder than that
And nowadays it's like a party in rap
and muthafuckas talk tough with like 40 niggas guardin' they back
I guess a message just ain't cool
Until niggas got the knowledge they gon' all be fooled"
Likewise, "Hell on the Streets" leaves behind the world of violent ghetto cartoons with touching lyrics set to a sparse acoustic guitar arrangement:
"I talk another language, but the struggle is univeral
We all know the shit that goes on up in the circle
It's already well known that we killin' ourself
But till somebody help me I'm gon' contribute to the hell
I try real hard, but I can't see shit changin'
Too many hands in the pot and really not enough papers
It's fucked up, on my strip I done lost a few
Two homies doin' life, they done lost the view
Shit, if you don't understand, let me walk you through
If you're born in the hood, there's some chalk for you
that is gonna come down there if you gettin' outlined
Got a homie, bullets flied, always made it out fine
and another, sorry to say, but just about time
cause at any given moment I can see the nigga dyin'"
Unfortunately, much of "The Force" sees True Da Hustla acting like you'd imagine a hustling young buck would act on the street, engaging in a lot of loud talk you'd quickly start to second-guess if you met someone like that in person. Tracks like "I'm Ready" and "Warrior" are boisterous declarations that seem to have no beginning and no end. It's cool to hear a rapper spit "48 Bars" with no hook as an introduction, but further into the album, you start missing song structure, "The Force" increasingly adapting a mixtape aesthetic with very few tracks clocking in at over 3 minutes.
This isn't just nitpicking by some critic guy, I think we all like to fast-forward our way to standout tracks. Better to have some than to have none, then. Apart from the aforementioned, candidates here are "Bye Bye Bye Bye" featuring a 50 Cent-like crooning over a Necro beat, Beatsworth's "The Shining", which should appeal to fans of the Mobb Deep type of melancholy, the short but sweet Atomic-produced "Prisoner" with its prominent flute sample, the highly original "Same All Around (Flushin Em Out)" by No Coast LLC, and finally "Oh Shit" by HH Science, another track that shines despite the minor but constant sound quality issues.
With "The Force", True Da Hustla hasn't reached Unsigned Hype status yet. There are only a few tracks that don't work at all ("Drop Down", "Bam Bam", "The VIP") and True strikes gold every now and then with memorable lines ("situation get hairy, then I shave with a gun"), but the need for real songs is apparent.
Music Vibes: 5.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 5.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5.5 of 10
Originally posted: October 28, 2003