The packaging for Houston's Lil Byrd's "Tha Most Fly" didn't make me very optimistic about what the album would sound like. It consists of poorly-printed photoshopped pictures of Lil Byrd with hot women and a hot car. The song titles are a list of street rap cliches; "Shoulder Pop," "The Hustle is Live," "Diamonds and Gold,"" Lets (sic) Ride," "Playa Down," and my favorite, "$hit Done Changed." The whole thing looks half-assed, and I expected the music to be half-assed as well.
Critic's lesson number one: looks can be deceiving, and you can't always judge an album by its cover. "Tha Most Fly" is a much better album than its humble packaging would suggest. I'm guessing Lil Byrd spent all of his money on recording the album, and so had to skimp on the presentation, since the whole disc sounds better than your typical home-brew hip hop. It starts off with "Cold As Ice" which mixes typical Southern production of skittering hi-hat and burbling synths with typical Southern rap themes of expensive cars, expensive jewelery, and expensive women. Like all good Southern rappers, Lil Byrd makes the vapid subject matter sound good, delivering the lines with enough swagger and finesse to render the subject matter moot. He could be rapping about investment strategies and it would still be banging. He tends to go for hedonism over any type of message, celebrating the female anatomy on "Stuck On It," repping his state on "Texas Boys," partying in the club on "Flick of the Wrist," and having some on the side on "Peep Ya Gal." He gets a little deeper on "Diamond and Gold," about the price he pays for his hustler lifestyle, asking "will I sell my soul trying to floss down this yellow brick road?" Lil Byrd has a steady flow and a deep voice, not unlike Bun B, who guests on "Peep Ya Gal." Byrd isn't always smooth on the mic, and he sometimes crams too many syllables into his raps, but for the most part he holds his own. He is joined by his fellow members of the Infamous Playa family including T-Boy, Bidg Body, Big Ken, Klas One, and Young Infamous, and it all sounds solid, with the exception of a few bungled bars.
The real star here is Mario Ayala, who handles most of the production. He offers something a few notches above your standard Southern street rap production, making good use of guitars, keyboards, and unusual samples. "Call Me Daddy" samples a Middle-Eastern pop song, and layers on acoustic guitars and handclap beats, and "Flick of the Wrist" continues the Middle-Eastern theme. "The Hustle Is Live" mixes hissing hi-hats, electronic blurbs, and Godzilla's screech into a beat that is futuristic and head-nodding. "Peep Ya Gal" has some wicked keys, "$hit Done Change" makes good use of a dirty blues riff, and "Lets Ride" has ice-cold 80s synths that will have you feathering your hair and busting out your Ray Bans. There are a few beats that sound generic, like the crunk club track "Shoulder Pop," or melodramatic synths on "Boss Slab," but they are a minority. Most of the tracks on "Tha Most Fly" are much better than you would expect from the album cover.
The album closes with "Fast Plane," which features R&B singer Carolyn. It's a beautiful and oddly effective song, and adds a nice bit of gravitas to an album that is mostly concerned with having a good time and showing off the spoils of success. "Fast Plane" is further proof that Lil Byrd and the Infamous Playa Family are more than just street rap. "Tha Most Fly" is worth searching out, and with a little polish, and a graphic designer, Lil Byrd could be onto something big.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: December 30, 2008