Young Noble’s career has been defined by who he works with. From the very start Noble got his fame from being the last person Tupac Shakur added to the Outlawz before his untimely demise. He can be heard four times throughout “Don Killuminati,” but unfortunately for Noble his mentor died only a month after recording the album and two months before it was released. Like the rest of Shakur’s crew he tried to forge a path in the industry afterward, but their association with ‘Pac would be both a gift and a curse. Comparisons to him were inevitable, expectations to hold up his legacy were high, and without Shakur’s charisma to carry the proceedings the pressure burst a lot of pipes. Noble (born Rufus Lee Cooper III) at least had the sense to partner with other successful rap artists to keep the flame of his name burning.

Outlaw Rydahz Vol. 1” could be the ultimate expression of Noble’s entire career trajectory. Rather than just collaborating with one artist, Noble put together an entire football team worth of collaborators, with even the album’s cover art forced to tap out on listing them all. The end result feels more like a mixtape than a Young Noble CD, and the fact it was printed and shipped on demand instead of being pressed and sold in retail stores reflects it. The breadth of guests is both impressive and amusing. I wouldn’t have expected to hear Sticky Fingaz from Onyx working with Young Noble, but you can’t miss him on “My Purpose” even if you tried.

Honestly this is a problem for Noble though. Even though this formula has worked for him in the past, the overwhelming number of collaborators here makes him a bit player on his own project. That’s not saying the guests aren’t enjoyable. Treach from Naughty By Nature shines on “Home of Tha Rydaz.” Oakland and Long Beach get love on “If It’s Wrong” featuring Mistah F.A.B. and Bad Azz (RIP). You could confuse the flute backdrop of “Can’t Kill My Pride” for Future’s “Mask Off” even though I’m sure it’s the Isley Brothers sample from “Bury Me a G,” and Kastro, Money B & Macadoshis are all giving it up to ‘Pac. That’s no surprise though as Macadoshis was in Thug Life, Money B was in Digital Underground, and Kastro is a fellow Outlawz member.

The song is great but it encapsulates the problem with “Outlaw Rydahz Vol. 1” perfectly. Forced to carry the mantle of ‘Pac far beyond his dying days, Noble pulls in people from groups that had disbanded and groups Shakur was barely in to show him love. Yes, Digital Underground helped put Shakur on the map nationally with “Same Song,” and he returned the favor on “I Get Around.” His fame quickly eclipsed that of his former bandmates though, and to their credit D.U. did not rely on the expectation he’d show up on a LP beyond 1993. Meanwhile Noble is forced to evoke him at every turn, even calling a mixtape full of his friends Outlaw Rydahz as one more attempt to chase Shakur’s fame. He died in 1996 and this CD/mixtape came out in 2012. Need I say more? Okay I will. This is the first of EIGHT VOLUMES and I don’t think I have the time or patience for the entire series. “Vol. 1” isn’t a bad album, but it clearly illustrates the law of diminishing returns, and Mr. Cooper is clearly left hangin’ without his homies.

Young Noble :: Outlaw Rydahz Vol. 1
7Overall Score