Love him or hate him, you have to give Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter credit. Ever since announcing his “retirement” from rap with “The Black Album,” his label Roc-A-Fella Records has been working non-stop to push the next wave of stars to come after him. Memphis Bleek, Kanye West, and now the Young Gunz have all released albums in the last few months. In fact, if you were only hitting the record store once a month, you’d probably feel like there was a new Roc release every time you turned around. Memphis is already established as a rapper though, and Kanye at least as a producer, so the only one of the three to be the next NEW thing from the Roc is the Gunnaz.

Chris and Neef have been running this rap shit for a minute themselves. Even before their solo album, they were being big-upped verbally by Jigga on “Takeover” and playing prominent rap roles on both “State Property” compilations. The song that garnered them the most acclaim was one the second comp, and appropriately titled “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop.” Despite their age (neither is legally old enough to purchase alcohol) the song had a vintage old school 1980’s feel, with a bare bones track made up of only beats and breakdowns that Rick Rubin would be proud of. Since then, they’ve released a Chingy remix of the track and a new single “No Better Love,” both of which appear on their debut album “Tough Luv.” The latter is clearly the opposite of the former; it’s a syrupy ballad with Rell singing the hook and both members (particularly Chris) expressing their devotion:

Chris: “I think I might wife her
You know, powder blue Roc-A-Wear suit, white Nike her
My niggaz like her
She been with me through the grind
Girl you put in that time like been lifers
You got tight used to hooky and chill
Twat tight plus she cook up a meal
Had the hook up for real
More headaches and stress cause a child involved
It’s all good cause our sex be my tylenol
Best baby doll of all
Shit the rest of you childish broads
Give me the sex then I’m tired of y’all
So find a next to provide for y’all
I got my baby girl, plus she bout to drop my baby girl”

Lest you think that Chris and Neef have gone soft, the album is still full of jump-offs. The Just Blaze produced “Friday Night” is another stripped down track with a hook that’s vintage early 80’s, and a beat from the mid-to-late. “$$$ Girlz” does for Hall & Oates what M.O.P.’s “Cold as Ice” did for Foreigner – make them fly-ass hip-hop. Scott Storch continues to increase his reputation outside The Roots with the banging “Never Take Me Alive” featuring Jay-Z, although even it can’t hold a candle to Just Blaze’s work on the title track. It’s all about the formative experiences that made him into MC’s:

“Think back, I never left the premises
Twenty-four seven the corner, now let’s remember this
After school you wrote your rhymes while I sat in your crib
One of the first niggaz you let in your crib
Moms treated me like a son since day one
Think about how she talk about she can’t wait ’til that day come
To think about that, I wasn’t even thinkin bout rap
Until I met you, and thank you for that
And now you got us lookin like Jaz and Jay
T. Mac and Carter, Neef; you gotta work harder, Neef
Shit we runnin with S. Carter, Neef
Dame and Biggs, get on your game my nig
The whole clique feel the same my nig
So don’t think cause I’m ahead of you I changed my nig”

A lot of the tracks on “Tough Luv” are produced by Chad Hamilton, such as the somber piano laced “North of Death” and “Parade” featuring Freeway, among others. Despite not being one of the best known names on the Roc production team to this point, his consistancy keeps the Young Gunz album ON point. Very few tracks on this 70+ minute album are mediocre, at least musically. It starts out hot with the anthemic Bink! track “Future of the Roc” and continues until the soulful songs “Time” and “Life We Chose” – both by Chad Hamilton. It doesn’t stop there though, since two bonus tracks follow the official end. On the whole there’s nothing wrong with “Tough Luv” as an album. Chris has a distinctive voice musically, not too deep but still having some grit to it when he spits. Neef compliments him well by being a little more pimpish, something akin to Slick Rick minus the British accent. Still and all this reviewer still feels a little non-plussed having listened to it. The Gunz certainly have all the requisite elements for success – the right producers, the right guest stars, and the right label to be signed to for promotional purposes. In the end that may be the problem – their debut seems a little TOO contrived at times. Groomed and managed for success by their older Roc-A-Fella peers, the Young Gunz carefully avoid whackness but also seem a little timid about taking changes musically and lyrically. They stick to tried and true themes about growing up poor, hustling to survive, making money and attracting fly women, and it just seems so cliche. Without the dominant voice and personality of a Jay-Z spitting these ideas, it doesn’t leave a lasting impression. “Tough Luv” is a worthwhile purchase, but the Young Gunz still need to get a little older and find their own identity.

Young Gunz :: Tough Luv
7Overall Score