Slowly but surely Styles has inched his way up from being an afterthought in The Lox to being among the best rappers in the state of New York, and easily among the upper echelons of rappers from Yonkers. He showed promise on his first solo album “A Gangster and a Gentleman,” improved on mixtapes like “The Ghost in the Machine” and in the end rocked out “Time is Money” like an East coast hip-hop superstar. Unfortunately for Styles as his rap got better his relationship with Interscope got worse, as they endlessly delayed his second album and finally released with little to no fanfare. Despite the crossover success of “I’m Black” and the strong potential for tracks like “Testify” with Talib Kweli to do the same, the album was clearly abandoned by the label and fell off the Billboard charts after just three weeks. The relationship with Interscope ended soon after. For unknown reasons they still host the website although it’s rather telling that it hasn’t been updated since December of 2006.

“Independence” is a curious new release from SP the Ghost. The album is not promoted any better or worse than “Time is Money” was, arriving in record stores with just as little notice to the general public on August 14th. The title is apt though since Styles has severed all his ties to Interscope and linked up with two well known independent labels –Koch Records, home for everyone from DJ Khaled to Jim Jones, and the California based Siccness Network which distributes mixtapes and indie releases for everyone from Ras Kass to Yukmouth. It’s a shame that even though both are name checked on the back cover they couldn’t work together to do a better job of getting the word out. In typical CD mixtape fashion the liner notes insert is very spartan, with production notes that are often minimal and in some cases (such as “Ms. Jackson” featuring Jadakiss or “Sifer” featuring Papoose and Lupe Fiasco) completely non-existent. Repeated drops for “siccness dot net” are inserted into the songs, often breaking up the natural flow of the beats and rhymes.

SPEAKING OF NATURAL the East coast to West coast connection on “Independence” is almost entirely forced. In theory this is a great idea – pairing the laid back and lyrically thoughtful Styles with some Cali artists who probably smoke just as much leafy green as the rapper behind “Good Times (I Get High)” does. Unfortunately this doesn’t prove as successful as inviting Jadakiss and Styles P to appear on The Game’s “One Blood” mega-remix. This is meant with all due respect to Bossman Hog, Clyde Carson, I-Rocc and Turf Talk but they sound completely out of place rapping with Styles P and vice versa. In fact SP is only minimally on some songs at all. The track “Rollie On My Arm” featuring Mitchy Slick and Turf Talk is a perfect example. SP kicks an opening verse (which an unnamed mixtape DJ chops and repeats to the point of annoyance) and the West coast representatives dominate for the remaining 2:35. Lyrically speaking they are two-thirds of the song or more and the “star” is only one third of the track. One often gets the feeling listening the idea was to get over Siccness Network and SP was just the vehicle they used to drive that point home.

Nevertheless there are still a few gems to be found on “Independence.” Some previously leaked tracks featuring Jadakiss like “Problem Child” and “Shots Fired” are included here. Styles collaborates nicely with G-Dep on two Batcave produced tracks, “Shrimp and Lobster” and “Special,” and the aforementioned “Ms. Jackson” features Styles and Jadakiss flowing nicely over the OutKast track you would expect. “Independence” proves to be its own worst enemy by going all over the map figuratively and literally, and nothing about it suggests anything other than a poorly thought out mixtape that both Siccness and Styles felt they could make a quick buck with. I have a feeling this will satisfy neither camp – the Californians will feel this one isn’t West or hyphy enough, and the New Yorkers will feel this one isn’t rugged or street enough. When you try to please everybody, in the end, nobody winds up happy.