Brooklyn’s AZ has long been obsessed with authenticity. Songs such as 2001’s “That’s Real”, 2005’s “The Truth” or 2006’s “I Am the Truth” reiterate this stance whereby he is adamant to the point of parody, that he is genuine. I praised AZ’s last project, 2021’s “Doe or Die II”, as it showed he hadn’t lost a step as an airtight lyricist, but production ultimately held his return back from being completely successful. The same can be said of his latest release, 2023’s “Truth Be Told”, which is completely produced by ever-reliable Buckwild, from the Diggin’ In The Crates crew.

“Kool G flow, all me, no movie role” AZ raps on “Reintroduction”, and it’s an accurate representation of the former Firm favorite’s style. He’s got a lot of G Rap’s qualities but lacks the attention to detail that allows G Rap to paint such vivid pictures. He does push himself a bit more throughout the album and includes just enough insight into being middle-aged to make his rhymes more interesting. For me, that’s what has held AZ back all these years in terms of not being heralded alongside the greats of the genre – he’s never been that interesting. It’s nice to see him stray from claiming authenticity to just being authentic, and it’s noticeable in the language he’s using. Prostates and colonics are checked and cleansed on “Don’t Go Astray”. He’s describing champagne flowing through his dick vein on ”This is Why”. It’s these details that lift AZ away from the potential dreariness of 90s veterans repurposing stale messaging. There are some brief mentions of his relationships with names like Guru and Nas, but I could have done with a bit more storytelling to make these songs more memorable.

This is a rapper with one of the tightest flows in the business, and the way he rides a beat is something many budding emcees can learn from. I’m the sort of pedant to point out that “One of the Greatest” is on the same album as a song called “The GOAT” – which is it? Nobody in their right mind has AZ as their GOAT, but he’s certainly worthy of the former title from his flow alone. Speaking of GOATs, Pharoahe Monch drops by on “Go Time” but only offers up a hook which is a shame. Fat Joe adds an additional D.I.T.C. feel to “How We Get It” and even tries to outflow AZ with a speedier verse than he usually performs. Dare I say he steals the song? It’s been a while since I’ve said that about Fat Joe. My favorite track is “Don’t Go Astray”, primarily because it has a bit of energy to the production – something AZ’s monotone often flourishes upon. Buckwild is in a similar position to AZ – not usually considered a GOAT or even top-tier, but consistent, reliable, and occasionally excellent. Similarly, he is mostly remembered for his 90s output, but his production doesn’t drop below par once on “Truth Be Told”. The problem is that there isn’t a standout beat either.

“Doe or Die” was a great debut for AZ in 1995, but I’m not sure it warranted the 10th-anniversary release in 2005, the 15th-anniversary release in 2010, nor the sequel “Doe or Die II” two years ago. It’s been milked more than “Illmatic”, and it does a discredit to AZ. He’s much more than his 90s debut, and his other albums are littered with gems. As much as I enjoyed seeing AZ continuing to flow immaculately three decades later, the announcement of an album with Buckwild in 2023 felt fairly unremarkable, particularly after the (here it comes!) Nas records we have been treated to. AZ’s run in the mid-2000s was arguably where he out-albumed Nas, but “Truth Be Told” shows an emcee lifting back the curtain on a career that is more interesting than he lets on. These last two albums have proved he can still create solid hip-hop, and with a bit more insight, and some stronger singles, he can certainly offer up another album of the quality of “The Format” or “A.W.O.L.” into his fifties.

AZ :: Truth Be Told
7Overall Score