If you're wondering how it could possibly be over ten years since the last Rah Digga album, consider that when she blessed us with "Dirty Harriet" in April 2000 Bill Clinton was president, Barry Sanders was on the cover of Madden, and Dr. Dre and Black Rob each had albums on the Billboard Top 10. At that time, the Newark native claimed affiliation with both the Outsidaz and the Flipmode Squad, but she would never be labeled either crew's token female rapperóin fact, her vicious rhymes and rugged technique made her a star of both outfits regardless of gender such that her Elektra debut was more heavily anticipated than any member of either collective not named Busta Rhymes. Nor did "Dirty Harriet" disappointóboth a commercial and critical success featuring production by Busta, Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Swizz Beatz, Rockwilder, Mr. Walt, Nottz, and others, Rashia appeared to be on the path to a stardom that only few females before her had attained. After "Dirty Harriet" Rah continued to collaborate with Busta and both of the aforementioned groups, maintaining a solid yet diminishing profile as the follow-up failed to materialize. After taking some time off from rapping, "Classic" is her return to the scene, taking the baby-picture-as-cover-shot approach like "Ready to Die," "Illmatic," and more recently "Tha Carter III" before it and sharing a release date with Black Milk's equally auspicious title "Album of the Year."
Barely clocking in at a half hour and featuring no guests, "Classic" is a brief and veritably straightforward record. Digga wastes no time with concept songs, introspection, or social commentary, focusing her efforts into hardcore rhyming and pure battle raps. Check her on the tellingly titled "This Ain't No Little Kid Rap":
"See, I don't study what the next folk have
Take two tokes and pass, invoke my own craft
Grown-up swag, whole other vocab
Y'all one-hit wonders blowin' smoke up they ass
See even after your peak, you'll never measure me
Rah legendary status, Rakim, Eric B
Diggin' in some lil' kid ass like Pleasure P
Hip hop police might start come arrestin' me
This that four-oh-one cake up, not Jacob
Boy, tie your shoelace up, get a shape-up
You in the presence of hip hop royalty
Rah Anastasia, Memoirs of a Geisha
Blood money in a paste-up
Type of pen game most rappers be afraid of
Some even call me the boom bap savior
Pledges behave, I might have to haze ya"
Rah comes armed with punchlines for days and an inspiring level of energy rare even among newcomers, much less a fifteen-year vet approaching her thirty-sixth birthday. She spits with a vengeance on "Who Gonna Check Me Boo" and the pounding "Straight Spittin IV" and rocks over strong beats on "Solidified" and the title track.
"Classic" is produced entirely by serviceable old friend Nottz, a go-to beatsmith among rap's elite, who provides familiar and distinctly East Coast-sounding music for the project. As might be expected, his beats boast the polish and consistency of his craft, yet are at times underwhelmingórepetitive, simplistic, and just forgettable to the point that they sound haphazardly arranged. One man's consistency is another's redundancy, and all of the tracks on "Classic" are essentially identical in structure and content, making the short running time rational. In spite of the heavy verses, the hooks are generally unimaginative, resulting in some unmemorable and one-dimensional material as Rah struggles for content beyond punchlines and name-checks. Both parties come up short on the awkward internet ode "Viral."
"Classic" is not a classic as I would normally use the termóit almost certainly lacks the flawlessness, timelessness, influence, originality, and singularity that tends to be associated with the wordóbut it may be classic in the sense that Rah embraces a simple, old school approach of rough battle rhymes and heavy beats provided by a single collaborator. It's a mature and assured effort from a rare female rapper who isn't an oversexed booty-shaker, a money-grubbing temptress, a typecast role player, or a space-aged Busta Rhymes sidekick, but rather an experienced artist who through years in the game has honed her undeniable talent to a point that few of her hip hop sisters then or now can claim.
Music Vibes: 6 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10
Originally posted: September 21, 2010