When it comes to expectations, Dice Raw has had stakes raised higher than a De La Soul LP. Why? Quite simply, he has been blazing cameo appearances on records from The Roots for the better part of a decade. Way back to when The Roots dropped their timeless classic “Distortion to Static,” there he was on the flipside giving an unabashed and near-flawless braggadocious verse seemingly off the top of his head:
“Got to know the real meaning of the ill shit, kid
I do mad damage but never will catch a bid
With my knapsack, full of ill shit that I just boosted
From the corner store when I let loose more
Flavor that’s me, rippin heads off from the seams
Niggaz didn’t play like Jeru and Come Clean”
Finally, after years of appearing on various songs in and outside the extended Roots family, Dice steps up to the circle hoping to snap a 4-5-6 and walk away with all the loot. Dice’s appeal factor was his loose, young sounding, almost comical attack – and somewhere along the way he apparently became convinced it wasn’t hard enough for the cold world of rap. When Dice kicked a hardcore Beanie Sigel style flow on “Adrenaline” from The Roots last album, I initially assumed that it was just a fluke and he’d go back to the smoothness.
Sadly, I have to report Dice has completely lost the essence of what made him dope. It starts with the title itself – “Reclaiming the Dead” seems to be making a claim that hip-hop can’t live or breathe without his album. Then there’s the pretentiousness of the lead single – a cut called “Thin Line (Between Raw and Jiggy).” That’s a mistake though – if the line was really that thin he’d in fact be saying there’s almost no difference between him and Will Smith, when in fact he is painfully desperate to prove that there is. Calling it “Wide Chasm (Between Commercial and Street)” would have been more appropriate, but I guess that’s not as catchy. Guest appearances by Malik B and Black Thought save this cut from the garbage bin, but just barely.
Dice Raw seems to need a tranquilizer – all throughout the album he’s ranting, raving, and shouting whenever he flows. This kid is no Sticky Fingaz, and never should have tried to be. A perfect example would be the otherwise pleasing cut “I Don’t Think” with Shanna Raw – she sounds like a nice blend of Bahamadia and Lauryn Hill while Dice brags about “eighth graders with twelve gauges” and says “your worst nightmare’s back off hiatus.” Why? We don’t really need anymore hardcore thuggisms in hip-hop right now, especially ones that weak.
Production-wise, even Roots uber-producer Scott Storch can’t save this album from mediocrity. He provides excellent tracks on the up-tempo “Forget What They Say” and heavy bass piano chords of “If You Want It” (loosely spun off T La Rock’s “It’s Yours”) but Dice just can’t calm down long enough to blend into the flow. I like video game references in rap, but his lame “This ain’t Metal Gear Solid – you can’t pause my killing” snap should be sent back like a broken Sony PlayStation. What got into Raw? Why did he get so obsessed with being so hard?
I keep trying to like this album, but even the skits insult my intelligence. I’m not easily insulted (after all I liked Eminem’s album) but the skit before “Lockdown” which mocks a record label executive who is obviously Asian is as poor in taste as the infamous Mr. Wong at an internet site we won’t give props to by mentioning their name. The one guest who could have been this album’s saving grace is Jill Scott, but the bouncy “If I Only Had Words” features more hardcore cliches like “just a lump of coal – pressure in time, changed to a diamond” when in fact it seems like for Dice Raw the pressure just caused him to crumble. I love the whole Roots Okayplayer collective and gladly support releases by their fam, but I just can’t recommend this one. Dice crossed the thin line between hardcore and abrasively wack and never even looked back.