Every rapper has an entourage. Like on the HBO show, the guys around the superstar are not nearly as talented as Vince, but they know how to fit in where they can to be part of the group. Each character adds their own dimension. The only reason a record label ever has interest in these extras is because the headliner brought in some dough and they're are trying to cash in on that success. I'm sure this in no surprise to anyone that acknowledge the recordnomics of the music business, especially when it concerns the fleeting fan base that makes an individual popular in the rap industry. Torch and Gunplay are the Johnny Drama and Turtle to Rick Ross. Together, the three of them attempt to bring the raw, gritty sound of the Florida rap scene by collaborating as a group called Triple C's (AKA Carol City Cartel). This is the introductory Evil Empire mixtape of their forthcoming “Black Flag” album--does it capture the kind of positive energy needed to turn people's heads for an official LP?
Only a few weeks prior to this release of the "Black Flag Prequel", Rick Ross released his "Rise to Power" album that featured songs recorded prior to "Port of Miami", his hit 2006 Def Jam disc. The cuts focused on a more raw sound than the caricature that he represented on his official debut, yet arguably it’s result was less entertaining than the emcee we’ve come to know . Torch and Gunplay have that underdeveloped sound, too. This is proven with the "Black Flag Prequel", which makes an attempt at giving each artist from the group shine equally with a solo track from each and, of course, several collaborative tracks.
The mixtape starts off slow with the uninspired "Clean Money" and "Career Criminal" which is Rick Ross' solo track. The songs are boring and extremely unoriginal. A general lack of creativity was a problem that also hindered "Rise of Power". It seems that the trio get into a stride though with the following tracks, "Shades On" and "Keep Stuntin'", respectively, not that they do a lot to dispute the point that this has all been done before. The latter has all the inner-workings of a radio banger as the grinding Kane Beatz produced track offers deep brass and sporadic pianos, thus complimenting the lyrical thuggery therein. The chorus comes through screwed and chopped style, repeating the phrase "I keep stuntin' !" which is fitting for the anthem approach the song aims for. But the subject matter of the album wears thin when you tread deeper into it. A truth reflected by the fact that there is another song called "Stuntin'" that essentially takes the exact same narrative mixed in the middle of the hour long disc.
"Come See Me" is another banger. In this one Torch offers a gangster-laced verse, where he sounds like a pseudo-Young Jeezy adlibbing over the bouncy beat. The best lines delivered are those where he doubles up on his rhymes, like "Nickel dimin', nickel nine in a nigga shoe, nah nigga try nickel dimin' to make a nigga shoot!" When the previous line is paired with the next line that comments on it's own cleverness "It's comical what a comma do, toe taggin', bag a nigga up, no time to truce,” the result makes you forget about the meaning of it (of which there is little) and simply gets the head nodding. There is no need to argue that this track is poetic in any way, rather it seems to welcome it's own outrageous, mindless, drivel. This song, along with several others, offers a glimpse of Torch in his place as second in command.
The solo tracks are really where each artist gets to shine and showcase their abilities. As previously mentioned, Rick Ross throws up a mediocre track with "Clean Criminal", but he has already established himself so this does not really effect anyone’s preset notions . Meanwhile, Torch and Gunplay try to bring their own heat. Unfortunately for Gunplay, the solo offering "Killswitch" is a obnoxious song. He sounds like he is just angrily talking over the anxious beat. Torch's song actually has the same structure as he comes through with a effortless near-talking flow, however he benefits from a silky smooth whistle-driven backdrop. His voice is much more tolerable and less forced than that of Gunplay. From an analogical standpoint, Rick Ross is 50 Cent; Torch is Young Buck; and Gunplay is the Tony Yayo of the group.
Much like most mixtapes, the Evil Empire "Black Flag Prequel" offers rehashed classics, or what more accurately can be described as the rappers flowing over well-known beats. The trio attempt to bring back the feeling of the Geto Boys' southern classic, "Mind Playing Tricks On Me.” Not surprisingly they fail to capture the magic of the original, despite jacking the chorus. The Outro is a 15:08 minute chunk of music that offers random freestyling over more contemporary joints like "Ballin'" and "This Is Why I'm Hot." Many would consider this never-ending grand finale to be pointless, but if these artists are trying to establish themselves, the need for it is understandable. There are a few points that Rick Ross actually reaches the level he did with "Port of Miami" with his off-kilter comedic bars. Still, the result of it will doubtfully get people salivating over the impending proper store release.
It has become a common trend for a rapper that has gained great popularity to bring their friends along for the ride. Too many times those friends lack the prowess necessary to succeed in the similar way that the front man has. Torch and Gunplay add their personal flair to Rick Ross, creating Triple C's (Carol City Cartel). All of the members promote the hustle of the Florida rap scene in their own unique ways, but that is not to conclude that the overall product is a purely positive experience. Hopefully this prequel is nothing more than a warm-up for a more polished (and better) release that they plan to put on the store shelves.
Music Vibes: 6 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5.5 of 10
Originally posted: October 16, 2007