He’s Turk and he’s young and thuggin’. This pretty much sums up Turk’s profile as a rap artist. He will grow older and possibly tone down the thuggin’, but right now he’s young and – you catch my drift. He’s not as young as Lil’ Romeo and Lil’ Bow Wow though. He’s around the same age (just reached his twenties) as his Hot Boys brethren Lil Wayne from which he now gets the chance to distinguish himself with this first solo album. Turk is the last Hot Boy to have a solo album and seemingly the one with the most to prove. Despite making his debut on Juvenile’s “Solja Rags” over four years ago, he’s been the Hot Boy to get the least mic time on their group efforts and his abscence from several live dates and other obligations has led to speculation about his future career. But for now it’s all on him to get his shine. While it was often hard for the occasional Cash Money client like myself to tell Turk and Wayne apart, I favor Turk vocally over Wayne for the reason that his voice is more melodic, which makes the innocence that is at the base of all his performances more believable. He may be thuggin’, but he’s also young.
It’s not easy for young artists to find their own voice, especially when they’re part of a successful artistic family. If they seek to profit from their family ties, they shouldn’t venture off too far on their own. One of the reasons Cash Money has been so successful these past years is their strong corporate identity. When you buy one of their albums, you just know things will be kept in the family with the Hot Boys and Big Tymers making guest appearances on each other’s albums and Mannie Fresh supplying the beats. As much as I like unsuspected changes in an artist’s career, that’s what I expect when I buy Cash Money product. It’s like getting to yet another sequel of one long-ass album. They’re not alone on this. Even though each Wu member claims to host a different chamber, they still all live under the same roof. The Clan ultimately conquered the world with his unique corporate identity. But just like the Wu-Tang temple has undergone renovations and expansions, the Cash Money aural residence is experiencing makeovers – however at a much smaller scale.
Mannie Fresh is still doing all the beats on Turk’s album. And the Cash Money Millionaires still crowd the guest spots. Only Mannie does not go back to the same drum patterns he has used over and over and more recent signees like the promising Christina, Mickey, Mack 10 and The Capos additionally make the guest list. What is it with this Mannie guy? Simply, he makes good beats. He continues to make good beats. He’s just adding more variations to them. The three dominant/prominent hip-hop producers of today, Swizz Beatz, Timbaland and Mannie Fresh, all have one thing in common: they prefer spending their time hitting keyboards and programming drum machines rather than digging in the crates for samples. Swizz comes with the Casio keyboard cascades and the oft-heard-just-not-in-hip-hop melodies while Timbaland leaves enough empty space in his tracks to let the funk seep through. Judging from their output, Swizz must be a rather nervous, busy man who’s steady on the go, while Timbaland is the playful adventurer who rests every now and then to take in the beauty of the soundscapes he’s just discovered.
Mannie Fresh seems to be the – judged by conventional standards – most musical guy of the trio. In a sense that even those not used to the many manifestations of hip-hop can easily see that this guy has an ear for music. He threads keyboard sounds in different ranges and at different paces on the same track and still makes it all fit. That’s why his tracks work on parallel levels: they float and bounce at the same time, they soothe and stir at the same time. You don’t have to go further into “Young & Thuggin'” than “Bout To Go Down”, where all these qualities come into effect. He’s also great at creating moods. Check the trouble-seeking “Yes We Do” that he laces with melodies that could come straight off Giorgio Moroder’s “Scarface” soundtrack. Or the playfully confrontational “Wanna Be Down”.
With a rapper like Turk and a producer like Mannie Fresh the beats will always be more interesting than the rhymes. Unless the producer seriously slips and/or the rapper surpasses himself unexpectedly. Which barely happens here. That does not mean that these two don’t belong together. You wouldn’t wanna hear a backpack rapper kicking his rhymes over these beats. It just wouldn’t sound right. While Turk and Mannie might not be the perfect combination like the other Hot Boys paired with Mannie are, they’re a good combination.
Does that mean there’s something wrong with Turk? Not really, no. I don’t see much of a point in criticizing a limited lyricist. Some have it and some don’t. Don’t bother looking for intricate plots, ill similes and clean-cut rhymes on this album. There’s not many. If you’re not into this thug thing and scapegoat Cash Money for all that’s wrong with hip-hop just because their infamous ‘bling-bling’ term stuck in your head, then you’re not trying to pick this album up anyway. Lyrically, you’re not missing anything. As far as rapping goes, however… I maintain that Turk’s style of rapping, which is totally representative of the whole CMR steelo, is highly original compared to most of the stuff that’s out there. Check the steadily rising and lowering delivery in the current single “It’s In Me” that gives you a sensation as if you’re gently hit by a wave of wordsound every other bar. In Mannie Fresh’s soulful and spicy orchestration the rappers play their parts just like all the other instruments.
At close inspection Turk does not have the same amount of rapping skills as the other Hot Boys. For instance he does not behave like the “untamed gorilla” he claims he is. He keeps the same composure, whether he’s aggravated or peaceful. And too often he’s just stating the (too) obvious facts. At the extremes of the lyrical spectrum there are rappers who bring up a new topic in every line on one side, and on the other side there are those who use a whole song to make the same claims over and over again. Unfortunately the Cash Money Millionaires tend to get repetitive. Once you grasp the idea of the song, you feel like you don’t have to listen to the lyrics anymore. I remember this one song early on in the late Big L’s career that was based on the statement that you can’t get any female companionship if you have no money. L kept repeating himself, but you kept listening for how he was going to word it. Turk also keeps repeating himself, but he could never make a song as entertaining. That’s why cuts like “Soldierette” or “Untamed Gorilla” get very old very fast. There’s more to complain about as him, the Capos and the Big Tymers follow the track’s melody with their untrained voices throughout “One Saturday Night”, making for a very painful listen. “Freak Da Hoes” is impaired by some unprofessional singing by Mannie and in “At The Same Time” Turk rarely ever sticks to the “thuggin’ but blingin’ at the same time” script he imposes on himself. And despite what I said earlier, Wayne comes off nicer than Turk on “All Night.”
There are also songs on “Young & Thuggin'” I can totally appreciate. “Trife Livin'” showcases what originally made Cash Money great: conveying a feeling through track and melodic flow alone. “What Would You Do” seeks the listener’s participation in a suspenseful tale where drug business and personal business conflict with each other. The closing “Hallways & Cuts” provides a haunting experience as Mickey, B.G. and Turk, wrapped in a spooky aural aura, describe in stunning detail what’s going on in them project hallways, corridors and cuts. “Growing Up” guests Mickey and Christina seem to be more skilled than their host, but they don’t focus on the song’s theme as much as Turk does. He intensifies the experience with a heartfelt chorus where he bigs up his moms. The most solid cut on this album has to be the simply titled “Project”. Hakiem of The Capos works the chorus, which makes for a nice change. Apart from that the track is all left to Turk who gives his best performance, changing up his melodic flow hile Mannie’s track hits you from all angles: it’s melodic yet thumping and smooth yet sharp.
From when the only recognizable voice in the Hot Boys used to be Juvenile to now that we know each member from solo efforts, I’ll admit that Turk fits nicely into the Cash Money corporate identity. He may be the weakest link in the crew, but together they pull it off as usual. The story of Cash Money Records has been one of sudden and continued success and I don’t see it about to end as long as their main asset, the music, continues to be as entertaining. I’ve come across so many CMR-related screen names on the internet. If you’re a real fan, go support Turk and buy this album.