I try to separate live performances from studio albums because they are two different approaches to rap that artists can excel at in different ways. But in 2017, I recall seeing Kool G Rap emerge from behind the bar at a small venue in Bristol (UK) in all plain black clothes, and feeling wholly disheartened. No support act, no DJ. This is one of the greatest rappers of all time, not just his generation, but all time. He’s up there with Jay, Nas, KRS, Eminem et. al, and yet his humble set belied his legendary status. It sticks in my memory, despite his intensely lyrical performance going down well with the few of us in attendance, and inevitably it actually enhanced my opinion of him because I doubt any of those other heavyweight emcees would handle this the same. Everyone’s experiences are different, but there’s something special about how Kool G Rap has maintained his legacy in recent years that enhances his reputation further. His style of storytelling retains a captivating lyrical quality that feels expertly written, as opposed to straightforward. cocky bragging many of his disciples offer up.
While you never hear him in attention-seeking rants, nor defending the indefensible; he has navigated some alleged domestic abuse claims from his ex-wife in 2015 and emerged from a period of forgettable projects (including the random passion project with Necro). In fact, some may argue he’s not released a good album in two decades, and his reputation is potentially overblown. Alas, “Last of a Dying Breed” demonstrates why Kool G Rap’s reputation continues to shine as rappers his age sadly pass away at an alarmingly regular rate. He literally is one of the last of a dying breed – the type of emcee you would buy albums for to hear his guest verse. I don’t so much categorize him in the hip-hop elite (Jay-Z, Nas) but in the alien emcee category (Canibus, Big Pun), except G Rap has continued to offer his talents at a high level for five decades, so he naturally enters that hip-hop elite conversation by default. Regardless of what Billboard says, it’s hard to argue against him being the greatest of all time when he’s been involved for 35 of the 50 years hip-hop has been a thing. His reputation and legacy continue to be defined by what he does best – he’s all about the bars.
Granted, this album is largely derivative and derogatory, and song titles such as “Born Hustler” offer nothing new, but it’s not so much the nature of the unimaginative content, as it is the creativity that goes into the way he rhymes about the said content. It’s why the addition of 38 Spesh and AZ works so well, as they possess a similar passion for watertight bar structures.
Much like Method Man, G Rap is happy to share the microphone with emcees far inferior to him and often puts his verses first which can be to the detriment of the song. “Winner’s Hand”, “Dying Breed” and an irritating Nems appearance where he rants all over “Critical”, would have all been better listens as G Rap solo tracks.
Produced by long-time production partner Domingo, the album’s best tracks have a somber, reflective nature that allows the 54-year-old to glide with his lisp-driven flow. His verse on “Never Be” rolled back the years to the point I questioned if it was even a new track. It’s genuinely one of the best verses of 2022 and you can tell he enjoyed writing with the challenge of one rhyme. He spars with Big Daddy Kane on “Fly Till I Die”, a track that any hip-hop fan will appreciate, as Kane proves G Rap isn’t in fact the last of a dying breed, because he has company but it only makes G Rap raise his standards higher:
“We poppin’ Louis XIII corks
Some mean cloth, clean Porsche, knockin’ bitches and your dreams off
Money in washing machines boss
Little n**** come back around when you finally climb up the beanstalk
Educated hoes, we think of scholars as stink’ chihuahuas
’cause we got them belly dancing for some wrinkled dollars
Pop my mink collars, I named her La La
Bling to rock her, did an all-nighter in a sperm drinkin’ saga
She ride lower than Lowriser
In my youth I used to pimp prostitutes at the plaza
No lie, tell the truth he a monster”
The two solo efforts, “Official” and “Donald Goines” offer up some valid arguments for a full solo album devoid of guests. The latter song in particular is a rare glimpse into G Rap applying his methods to a drumless loop and it’s something I’d like to hear more of. I’m tired of the subgenre being lazily churned out – a writer as intricate as Kool G Rap could really blossom and show some younger emcees how to work that aesthetic more effectively.
Impressive performances aside, this is ultimately a solid addition to G Rap’s catalog that will appease hardcore fans without converting anyone that hasn’t kept up with the Queens veteran’s career. “Born N Raised”, “Fly Till I Die” and “Born Hustler” show that when partnered with strong lyricists, Kool G Rap remains must-listen hip-hop, as do the occasional solo track if provided production that doesn’t outstay its welcome. With Nas, Tragedy Khadafi, and Pharoahe Monch all still tearing up microphones into their 50s, he’s not quite yet the last of a dying breed in Queensbridge, but this album is a welcome reminder to appreciate just how gifted Kool G Rap was, and still is.