It’s a bit strange that I feel such incredibly urgency to cover A.G.’s “The Dirty Version” right now after having not done it in the last 20+ years, but oddly enough Andre Barnes has Coolio to thank for this development. I had no idea that Artis Leon Ivey Jr. would be the next rapper I loved from childhood to die far too young when I reviewed “It Takes a Thief,” but when I looked at the write-up I realized my review and his passing were only two years apart. Frankly I hope Barnes is with us for three, four or five more decades, but I’m just not going to take the chance I’d wind up covering his first solo album posthumously. I’m doing it right now dunn. It can’t wait.

At some point in the not too distant future I’m going to explain how important Showbiz & A.G.’s “Runaway Slave” was to me in 1992, but suffice it to say that Andre the Giant became as large to me as his more famous namesake. In truth the moniker was a double edged sword. It humorously makes fun of Andre Barnes’ diminutive stature but it also lets you know how big of a lyricist he is on the mic. A.G. isn’t a household name the way Andre Roussimoff is, but his distinctive voice defines 1990’s Bronx rap. His rap on “All Eye Seeing” reflects his tendency to mix streetwise and thoughtful bars.

“I seen the brokest nigga get rich
Ghetto dimes catch the monster, and shook niggaz snitch
I seen niggaz blow and forget where they came from
(I’m the same one) that seen two die from the same gun
I seen my nigga lace this track from scratch
Buckwild, this shit is fat, where you at?
I seen my friends turn to enemies
I seen peeps turn to memories”

If this is your intro to Andre, let this solidify why Mr. Barnes is a seminal member of Diggin In The Crates. Big L(RIP) got the props for his punchlines, Fat Joe is the street muscle, Lord Finesse the man you never want to battle, and O.C. is the lyrical intellectual. Barnes is any of those things on any given day, making him an incredibly versatile rapper, and on “The Dirty Version” he’s still at his peak as an emcee. What’s funny though is how his solo album ends up being a D.I.T.C. album without being called as such. Obviously you’ve got all of the clique’s producers like Showbiz, Buckwild, Finesse and Diamond providing beats, and all of them save Buck are known to bust a verse here and there to good effect. You can hear Diamond D pulling double duty on the smooth “No Where to Go.”

Unfortunately being an unofficial D.I.T.C. album also means you get officially substandard guest stars who hung around the periphery of the Diggers. Kool Chuck? Why do we need bars from Kool Chuck? And I mean this with as much respect as I can give the deceased — I never cared for Party Arty. Every time I heard his gravelly voice on a song I couldn’t wait for the next man to get on and take the mic from him. Speaking of unofficial though, “Weed Scented” might as well be an unofficial Gang Starr track. It’s produced by DJ Premier and the late Guru spits the first verse. “You kick rhymes but you’re not flowing/You think you shine? You’re not glowing/Where we’re headed, you’re not going.” This one nods the head so hard your neck might need a chiropractor. O.C, Guru and A.G. on one track with a Primo beat? It just doesn’t get better than this.

Unfortunately this is paired with songs that are the exact opposite. A.C.E. and Wali World turn in a solid track for “Do You” but it would have been better if Andre was on it solo, even if the song was a minute shorter. I already mentioned Party Arty does nothing for me, and his Ghetto Dwellas cohort D-Flow is only better by virtue of not sounding like he snacks on sandpaper. There’s also way too much time spent on unnecessary skits. I don’t need to hear from somebody’s son yelling encouragement to the D.I.T.C. crew before “Rude Awakening.” The “Rock Star Skit” paired with “Hold It Down” doesn’t even have the benefit of being as cute as a kid with a speech impediment. I’m not sure what woman they talked into being on the “Asshole” skit, but that might actually be more respectful than the way A.G. discusses having “a girl with a girlfriend” on “20 Cent Girl.” I get it though — it’s a male fantasy.

Honestly the album needs more songs like this one (as rude as it might be) just because A.G. basically gets the spotlight to himself save for the hook. “B.X.M.F.” doesn’t belong on this album, and Teck 9 is definitely not to be confused with Tek from Smif-N-Wessun. They aren’t even in the same league. Other than being heard in the intro and outro, Andre Barnes isn’t on the song. The instrumental sucks too. Then A.G.’s solo album goes from being a D.I.T.C. project in all but name to blatantly sharing tracks from their self-titled album with “Drop It Heavy” appearing on both. The track is nice enough to be featured twice, but STILL. As much as I like Buckwild’s track on “Kurupt Money” (there’s no Dogg Pound cameo despite the name) it’s a bunch of people not named Andre Barnes spitting bars.

Now I remember why it took me over two decades to review “The Dirty Version” — this shit made me mad. The title says it’s an A.G. album. I have no doubt he was a ghost writer for many of the third tier D.I.T.C. rappers who spit bars on it. I don’t want to hear other people doing Andre Barnes’ words though, I want to hear the man who made pockets fat and souls clap. For the production and for some of the top notch guest stars D.I.T.C. pulled in, there’s still enough here to make it worthwhile. If you want Andre the Giant, “a giant in the mental” as he once so eloquently put it, you just don’t get enough of it here. The truth is you get more bars from him when he’s sharing top billing with O.C. and for what’s supposedly a solo album that just doesn’t cut it.

A.G. :: The Dirty Version
7Overall Score