If street credibility is your main criteria for enjoying a rap act, then this group of hip-hop artists is for you. The Nsidaz is an incarcerated collective of rappers confined within the concrete walls of prison--they've seen the horrors of the world and some have lived them. Given the nature of rap music, this has been done before; both C-Murder and Shyne have supposedly dropped bars from behind bars, not letting the absence of freedom hold them down from making a little cash money. The objective for the Nsidaz seems much more real and passionate; however, as the mastermind behind the project, "G Chozen" seems to be empathetic with his peers and fellow group mates. He is attempting to use "On Da Inside" as a head start for the individuals involved in becoming better members of society. It is with great rarity that you see the flawed prison systems truly rehabilitate someone, but it seems clear that Chozen, who has been locked up for 10 years now, is an honorable man that cites the guidance of God as his main source of inspiration. The difficulties in creating a cohesive live album on a set schedule without the use of quality equipment are overwhelmingly substantial barriers, but even though they have recorded 200+ tracks the miracle of the material seems limited to the idea of them, rather than their realization.
Within moments of hearing the self-titled introductory track the listener will certainly note the gritty, low-fi feel of the album. "On Da Inside" focuses on the expected subject matter of being incarcerated with lines like, "I do my time/I don't let my time do me," a theme that resurfaces throughout the project. Unfortunately, the previous line is one of the wiser anecdotes on the LP. Since the Nsidaz affiliation is supposed to serve as a second chance, or a positive source of hope, it seems like any inmate that showed interest in lending their vocals was passed the mic. Therefore, "On Da Inside" runs into problems of song structure and any sense of cohesiveness.
The second song, "Make 'Em Say Yeah" is a prime example of some surface issues that arise during the listen. This track starts off with an R&B style chorus over a quick paced snare beat, into the bridge which is a repetition of the phrase, "I'm going to make you say yeah!" Awkwardly, the same R&B crooner kicks the track off with his own verse, which is not nearly derivative enough from the chorus, before anyone else spits rhymes. As with many cuts, the artists' flows vary so much from one another that they do not create a smooth collaboration.
"Mr. Be Buck -N- Stuff" is a creation that sounds most like popular Southern rap music, or anything you would hear on the airwaves for that matter. Despite the obvious restrictions in production options, the high-pitched keys (which almost mimic a xylophone sound) of this song are catchy, but the overly aggressive hook makes for an eventually frustrating listen. Nonetheless, this is a backdrop that Eightball & MJG might incorporate into one of their dirty South albums.
The album as a whole lacks conceptual drive; however, "Penpals" is a song about the difficulties in establishing relationships while being held up in a cell. Once you get past the minute and a half intro indicating the premise of the song, it eventually delves into the issue of the feeling of being alone and isolated--And the importance of some kind of outside companionship. These are the issues that the Nsidaz should focus on more, what it is like to be in the yard, as most great music comes from personal experiences. It may not be necessary of the genre of rap music to repent violence of the past; still a little peak into the thought and emotions that coincide with the events that affected their lives so dramatically would be nice.
The album closes out pretty nicely with two of the better joints on the album between "Supply-N-Demand" and "All the Time". Aside from the lack of namedropping, one of the guys actually sounds like a less polished version of The Game. He opens the latter with a respectable verse, which leaves a more optimistic impression of the overall product than expected.
The Nsidaz have apparently completed 12 albums while in the confines of prison, this being their first really distributed at any notable level. It is a good feeling to see that there are ways that certain prisoners get a chance to believe and have something to look forward to. Yet, assumedly one should really be able to hone their writing and emceeing abilities if they put their mind to it while doing time, so I would expect there to be higher levels of lyricism than the typical expressions on "On Da Inside". They do not have a studio and they recorded the disc live, so a casual listener has to consider the circumstances when judging the album, but as a critic it is unfair for me to slant the curve because of this unfortunate situation. I respect Chozen, Phoenix and the other collective members of the Nsidaz for realizing their dreams, doing what others said they couldn't do, though there are many hurdles for them to climb to reach the expectations of the consumer market.
Music Vibes: 4 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 3.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 4 of 10
Originally posted: January 29, 2008