The rap crew has been a staple in hip-hop from the start. Doug E. Fresh had the Get Fresh Crew, W.C. had the Maad Circle, and today it seems everyone, from veterans to new-jacks, introduces a crew or two to the rap game. Though the process of putting your crew on has become a relatively easy one, ensuring the success of a rap crew is one of the most difficult things to do. And even if a crew manages to be relatively successful, that success is usually limited by the success of their respective host-star. Biggie’s Junior Mafia couldn’t survive after his demise, and even Lil Kim’s “success” is still bolstered by B.I.G.’s legacy.
The Outlawz on the other hand have managed to be one of the few crews to establish their own legacy in the rap game. Critics may scoff at the notion and dismiss their success to Pac’s influence and die hard fans, but the Outlawz’ record speaks for itself. Plain and simple, as much as Pac’s legacy is respected in the rap game, the rap industry is a successful business first and foremost and successful businesses don’t hire employees based on pity or emotion. If the Outlawz’s only asset was their connection to Pac, they wouldn’t be able to consistently find work in the money-driven rap industry. Furthermore, you’re more likely to find Outlawz fans that refuse to buy the latest rehashed â€˜Pac album than â€˜Pac fans that buy Outlawz albums by mere association.
What makes the Outlawz so appealing to rap fans is the same attitude and outlook on life that made Tupac so popular. The Outlawz have been doing what producers and label execs have been unsuccessfully trying to do with old Tupac vocals, and that’s keeping â€˜Pac’s message relevant and adapting it to changing times. Despite this very appealing aspect of the Outlawz career, they have always suffered from poor production and iffy contributions from fringe members. With “Outlaw 4 Life” the crew has finally addressed these problems by trimming the group down to three dedicated members and upgrading the production. The result is the Outlawz’s best album to date.
The album starts off with the Focus produced “Real Talk.” Over Focus’ gentle piano notes, the Outlawz spit heartfelt rhymes about their struggles both in and out of the rap game. A.D. Future comes through with an original beat on “Can’t Turn Back.” The mix of strings and electric guitar work well to set the triumphant tone of this track as the Outlawz ride on Tupac imposters and declare their intentions to be in the rap game for the long run. “Celebrate” is the album’s first single, and comes correct in every way. Reo’s beat is upbeat and catchy enough to get the average rap fan’s attention, and the song’s celebratory nature is serious enough to make even the most refined thug nod in agreement. TQ’s raspy vocals are perfect on the beat as the underrated vocalist returns to his west coast roots. Kastro captures the essence of the track on the second verse:
“I wasn’t born with a silver spoon
my mama was poor in the delivery room
but we gon make it, look done made it
pops still goin strong, mom poppin the greatest
life been good to a nigga
I remember bout the hood and how I could do a nigga
but not me
I been good to a nigga
I support not no more
I’m a hood rich nigga now
and I’m hangin like wet clothes
the fresh white frisbee tee, countin bank rolls
I ain’t botherin with you stank hoes
another problem bitch, I got enough for those
me, myself, I don’t need nothin else
but a good mind and some good health
that’s all I got on my wish list
pop a bottle, what’s the celebration bitches”
This single is followed by what could potentially be the album’s second single. Anyone familiar with Twista or Midwest hip-hop will instantly recognize The Legendary Traxter’s sinister synth-heavy production. Bun B also shows up for another solid guest contribution, the latest from the man who is quickly becoming 2005’s guest performer of the year.
The album definitely starts out strong, but thankfully doesn’t taper off a bit as it goes along. “They Don’t Understand” fits the theme of the album well and once again finds the Outlawz opening up to the rap world about their struggles in the industry and Pac’s legacy. “Let It Burn” is one of the album’s weaker tracks, but isn’t that bad in itself, especially for those who enjoy lighting up. “These Are The Times” is an upbeat, yet serious, track where the Outlawz and Khujo Goodie deliver another uplifting anthem. “Smilin’ Faces” is another solid track addressing more serious topics. What follows are equally solid tracks where the Outlawz consistently step their game up and show their maturity. The album ends with the jazzy “Listen To Me” and somber and paranoid “Losin’ My Mind.” Both tracks are dope and show the Outlawz’s willingness to address deeper issues this time around.
With “Outlawz 4 Life” the group has definitely taken a big step in the right direction. The production is solid from start to finish, something new to an Outlawz project. The group has also focused on deeper and more relevant issues this time around, as opposed to previous efforts that focused more on thug life. The result is a good album that carries on Tupac’s legacy without imitating â€˜Pac or using him as crutch. For those down with the Outlawz since day one, your patronage has finally been rewarded. Those who’ve strayed from the Outlaw lifestyle in recent years, you’ll find no better time to return than now. And finally, those people who’ve dismissed the Outlawz, you should tune in if only to see â€˜Pac’s vision of the future fulfilled by the success of his “lil’ homies.”