Not only did Yukmouth’s solo career come unexpected, it also started with a bang. At a time when they were considered the next step for big brands such as 2Pac, The Notorious BIG and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, the Luniz alumnus debuted with a double disc that did surprisingly well, even eventually going gold. Now in its tenth year, that solo career has seen its ups and downs, but at the end of the day Yukmouth is still able to make a living with rap music in 2008. His relationship with Rap-A-Lot’s J Prince (a business partnership that existed since the mid-’90s), however, has come to an end. “Million Dollar Mouthpiece” had been announced for four years, and was only finally released earlier this year. In the meantime, Yuk busied himself with collaboration projects and off-label mixtapes such as “Million Dollar Game,” “Lord of War,” and “The City of Dope, Vol. 1.” Another full-length, “The West Coast Don,” is slated for release early next year. Lest we forget the “Greatest Hits” collection that was released this summer.

When the game is flooded with product from a particular artist, it becomes increasingly difficult to hold said artist responsible for individual releases, at least from an old fashioned album critique point of view. Who can guarantee that this is exactly how the artist intended the record to be released? And so a reviewer is more inclined to both look at the bigger picture and to scrutinize individual songs. In regards to the former, Yukmouth is not about to change that late in the game. For someone who enjoyed the often humorous but always credible depiction of the petty criminal lifestyle on the classic Luniz debut “Operation Stackola,” what fellow RapReviewer Flash said on the occasion of the aforementioned first solo offering “Thugged Out – The Albulation,” applies to all of his subsequent albums:

“Yuk has a dope flow and can flip it off the tongue nicely, but he’s drifted away from the comical stylings which made The Luniz so popular and come way too realla. It may be the direction he’s always wanted to go, but it’s not a good change. Less hardcore and more comedy makes Yukmouth distinctive. More hardcore and less comedy just makes Yuk like every other generic banger on wax.”

By now those for whom “I Got 5 on It” is more than a hit from before their time have either accepted that change or given up on Yukmouth. The problem with giving up on Yukmouth is that you deprive yourself of hearing one of the most talented rappers the West Coast has to offer. Understandably, when recalling tracks such as “U Love 2 Hate” und “World’s Most Hated,” even die-hard fans will question Yuk’s originality in subject matter when spotting a song called “Hate Me.” Ironically, “Hate Me” is one of the album’s strongest cuts and brings back the Yuk of old, a rapper that is aggressive, animated and funny all in one. The Slapboyz do their part with a sharp, string-led beat that provides a fitting musical theme to the topic. Each verse starts off with him vocally mimicking haters before he delivers the response in his normal rapping tone:

“They sayin’ Yukmouth this and Yukmouth that…
‘Yukmouth a bitch, he even got his chain snatched
The Game fucked him up when they was on the same track
And Spider beat his ass, that nigga can’t scrap
One hit wonder, that nigga can’t rap
And he trick on the bitches, that nigga can’t mack
Got ran out of Oakland and never came back
And I heard he was smokin’, he never slinged crack’
Haha, gotta laugh at that and blaze a grape sack
Next day I got my chain back, so rephrase that
His bitch chose up, I pimped her on the same track
Niggas be dirty-mackin’ when you fuck the same rats
And that Game shit is old, it was way back
We squashed the beef since then, I know you hate that
And ask Numskull, I used to sling lley sacks…”

“Hate Me” ends with Yuk stating that he’s done dissing period, but considering his temper he’s likely to come back to that decision. After all, he couldn’t help lashing out against Numskull in a recent interview. And so “Million Dollar Mouthpiece” is one of those rap albums that are almost too eager to prove a point. He teams up with Crooked I to issue a wake-up call on “Wake They Game Up,” although boasts such as “The greatest American thug hero dodgin’ the drug bureau” and “I’m a date for the Oscars and I’m draped like a mobster” are not exactly worth losing sleep over. Like many longstanding rap stars in danger of being left behind, Yukmouth stresses his relevance and achievements. “Befo’ Jeezy Yukmeezy been a Corporate Thug,” we learn on “Shine Like Me,” but when competition boils down to whose jewerly shines the brightest this reviewer is mainly reminded of revealing MTV shows like Tiara Girls and My Super Sweet 16. Young L’s swirling, ice-cold synths, though serviceable, add to the redundancy, which culminates in the thoughtless simile “Katrina on the wrist, watch flooded like New Orleans.”

Ten years ago, we took issue with Yukmouth songs that ‘do not cover any ground that hasn’t already been cliched to death in gangsta rap.’ Some might say that any ground gangsta rap sets foot on has a slim chance of being revived. Fact is that artists from Jay-Z to Z-Ro have been able to instill g rap with new lyrical depth, but for every innovator you get a hundred imitators that will run any fresh concept eventually into the ground. Gangsta rap will always work with clichés, it’s when it still manages to trump expectations that it justifies its enduring existance. Last year, dead prez and the Outlawz made a compelling statement on their collaborative album “Can’t Sell Dope Forever,” and while the sentiment itself isn’t particularly new to rap, it represents the genre’s attempt at sincere reflexion. For his own “Can’t Sell Dope 4eva,” Yuk made the wise decision to invite two street rap veterans, L.A.’s MC Eiht and Houston’s Trae. Producer Cozmo contributes a beat that exhibits the familiar gangsta walk but also moves along at a reduced, pensive pace. Yuk gives a truly enlightening account about being part of a family-run crackhouse before the guests share their individual insight while the uncredited singer croons, “Oh no, you can’t sling dope forever / Gotta think of better ways to get that cheddar / knowin’ that the ATF can raid whenever / Gotta stack that dough for the rainy weather / but you can’t sling dope forever.” Gangsta rap with a message doesn’t come much better than this.

That’s as far as Yuk is willing to take reflexion. He shares more personal details on “Drug Dealer,” but overall it’s the expected attempt to keep up with rap’s biggest trap stars, right down to producer Traxamillion’s southern-sounding track. At least the rapper laces it with historical references:

“They thought I died but I rose from the ashes
like a phoenix; take it back to ninety-fo’ on you bastards
to 64th and Bancroft, the coke in the traffic
triple beam on the table while I wrote them classics
Yuk a vet, I was raised by the fuckin’ best
Bay Area bosses, Felix Mitchell and A.F. [Anthony Flowers]
the same niggas that gave Pac his Juice
Yukmouth been a hustler since the fiends called the work a hubba”

Further tracks in tune with the current climate (i.e. southern-influenced) include “Hey Boy” and “Playboi,” the latter’s lines ending on the same word throughout (“playboi” that is). “Make it Rain” is a slow strip club jam whose lyrical highlight is “I predict a blizzard, a thunderstorm comin’ / I make it rain and watch the strippers turn to Wonder Woman / for the Super Friends, hop in my super Benz / and I get Superhead like I knew Karrine.” It’s all a bit ironic when you consider “I’m Doin My Thang” (another Traxamillion-produced track that isn’t particularly original), which starts with “The wack-ass rappers ruined the game / the weak fall and the true’ll remain.” Because these tracks (“I’m Doin My Thang” included) sound mostly like everybody else’s shit. A reference like “They got me feelin’ like the Clipse on Jive / I ain’t dropped cause niggas tryina take my chips and slide” only helps to point out that average (t)rappers these days are easily eclipsed (no pun intended).

Yukmouth shows much more promise on “Corner Store” and “My Turf.” Both songs renounce the flavor of the month, Nan Dogg’s “My Turf” even displaying a distinct East Coast leaning. “Corner Store,” a sympathetic tour of the hood’s liquor stores, has national potential with its nocturnal atmosphere courtesy of The Slapboyz and singer Matt Blaque’s hook, which concludes, “I swear to God the last thing standin’ on the block gon’ be my corner store.” “My Turf” is an audio dictionary not quite in the vein (nor on the level) of Big L’s “Ebonics,” but rather a cross-country comparison of street terms: “You call it the block, I call it the turf / Whoa, you call it a rock, I call it the work / Yeah, you call it welfare, I call it the first…”

“Million Dollar Mouthpiece” covers more (if the expected) bases with the closing “Mobsta Mobsta” for Regime faithfuls; “West Side,” where Ruff Ryders affiliate P. Killer Trackz hooks up a classic rider beat for selected West Coast representatives (Sacramento’s C-Bo, San Diego’s Jayo Felony and either Watts’ Glasses Malone or Carson’s Bleu Da Vinci – the CD lacks in the credits department); the gorgeous pimp era throwback “The Best Thing Goin” featuring Too $hort and Richie Rich (as well as Devin and Danica The Morning Star on the hook); and the hyphy “East Oakland,” a disappointment despite the Droop-E production and the monstrous line-up. Finally there’s the inspirational (and only slightly sappy) “Star in the Sky” where “The Best Thing Goin” collaborators Enigma (beat) and Devin (chorus) join Yuk in his touching childhood contemplations:

“Mama, why the other kids get to ride a bike?
I had to build a go-cart out of wood
We was too broke, I couldn’t buy a bike
The front had roller skating wheels
A string to steer, the back was big training wheels
And my seat was a milk crate
My brake was my shoes, that’s why my heels scrape
Just hopin’ that my mama had a meal made
But she smoked out
I had to eat at my folks’ house
Thank God for friends
cause if I didn’t have ’em, I’d be eatin’ out a garbage can
I put it all in the Father’s hands
cause when I’m starvin’, man
He let me eat, so it’s part of the plan
I just appreciate I got clothes, even though they got holes
We was in motels eatin’ on a hot stove
Bein’ broke’ll make you go berzerk
You think I’m lyin’? I was cryin’ when I wrote this verse”

In the end the good songs on “Million Dollar Mouthpiece” outnumber the bad ones, but the good ones are still in the minority, making it an only average album. Its length places it in an era that is coming to an end – also indicated by the (well-executed) opening mobster flick tribute. (That’s so 1998.) It seems you can’t expect more than trash talk and financial excess from a persona nicknamed Yuk DiBiase The Million Dollar Mouthpiece. When he exceeds these expectations, Yukmouth the artist adds to his legacy, but he doesn’t do it nearly enough.

Yukmouth :: Million Dollar Mouthpiece
6.5Overall Score