Jermaine Dupri :: Young, Fly & Flashy Vol. 1 :: So So Def
as reviewed by One Line

Hi, my name is One and I'm a closet J.D. fan.

I know what you're thinking: "Say it ain't so One! I thought you were the truth!" Dammit, what do you want me to do?! Who cares if he's got a Napoleon complex and was in way over his head dissin' Timbaland and Dr. Dre. I admit I had a good laugh at his expense when Tim, Dre, Eminem, and Xzibit verbally sucker-punched the unarmed man. You reap what you sow. But you've gotta hand it to the guy: he's been dropping platinum party joints forever and no matter how many people bash his ego, he still acts like the biggest baller in the club. He's the rap version of Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson: a walking ego trip whose braggadocio (often out-talking his walking) somehow manages to be comical, even endearing. And he's got Janet Jackson under his arm. Can't argue with that.

J.D. was at his pinnacle (and most underappreciated) back in 1998, when the "bling" era was in full effect. "Money Ain't a Thing" was THE song that defined the sign of the times. His debut "Life in 1472" was party rap at its finest, a seminal classic. Before you scoff, recall the album's hall-of-fame roster: Nas, Jay-Z, DMX, Slick Rick, Eightball and Snoop. Producers included Dupri himself, Primo, DJ Quik, D-Dot, and even unknown Kanye West. Add R&B chart-toppers Mariah Carey, Keith Sweat, Xscape, and Usher to the mix and then you'll begin to understand the power of Don Chi Chi. Never the most well-equipped MC, Jermaine's always been defined by his own self-confidence and the people he surrounds himself with.

Fast-forward to 2005 and a lot has changed since the glory days. His 2001 sophomore LP "Instructions" flat-lined. Even with heavyweights Ludacris and Jadakiss, the album had nowhere near the star-power of his debut. Kiddie-rap cash cow Lil' Bow Wow brought in major funds but tarnished his player card. His once halfway believable boasts now sounded hollow and played out (pun intended) in a hip-hop scene that had moved on. And if you thought "Instructions" was just a sophomore slump, in comes "Young, Fly, & Flashy Vol. 1".

Trying desperately to catch up to an industry leaving him behind, the ATL native makes the predictable jump onto the crunk bandwagon. Conceding to "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" philosophy, Jermaine sounds more out-of-place than ever and he knows it, lyrically absent from all but three tracks. On his previous two offerings he dropped a line on nearly every cut. Also gone are the famous guest appearances. No Jay, Nas, Ricky, or Luda to be found. In their places are a collection of second tier MCs (Daz, Bun B, Pastor Troy, Da Brat, J-Kwon, Stat Quo) and minor leaguers (Young Capone, T-Rock, Kavious, The Kid Slim, Kato, T. Waters, and Miss B). No offense to the new cast, but this is clearly a weaker overall lineup than J.D. has started in the past. It should also be noted that all the spitters are Dirty South-based (even LA transplant Daz is now dialing in from Mississippi), unlike the universal sound of preceding albums.

Tracks like "I'm Hot", "So What", "Throw'd Off", and "Just to Fight" have crunk oozing from them. None are terrible, but none are standouts either and you can't help but cringe at the stench of "sellout" wafting through the air. It's one thing to hear new producers copycatting the crunk sound, but when a producer who's been in the game as long as J.D. abandons his style to do the same, what else would you call it?

Still present on the album are J.D.'s bread-and-butter up-tempo R&B tracks. One is done well ("Put Cha Hands Up"). The other is embarrassing ("Grown Man"). Recycling Jay-Z's "Song Cry" instrumental, Miss B raps about....wanting a "grown" man?! And she's not talking about a guy with job or education, but really any dude at the bar not wearing a throwback. Check out the hook:

"I'm looking for a thug with his grown man on
Grown man on, grown man on
Any thugs in the club with his grown man on
grown man on, grown man on?
White tees, baggy jeans, you can leave 'em at home
leave 'em at home, leave 'em at home
Cause tonight I don't wanna see no throwback on
Cause I'm looking for that thug with his grown man on"

This shallow fashion advice disguised as a song wouldn't be nearly as reviled if it wasn't delivered over Jay's heartfelt "Song Cry". How are you gonna reuse "Song Cry" for this? That'd be like if "Get Low" was remixed over the "Dear Mama" instrumental. This has to be some sort of crime. Jay, you're the president of Def Jam. Can't you do something about this? And while you're at it, try to erase Mos Def's "Rapeover" from our minds as well.

Even with all the criticisms, there still are redeemable moments on the album. Daz sounds rejuvenated on his contributions ("I'm Hot", "10 Toes"), bringing the high energy that we all know and love him for. His lyrics will never "wow" you, but the intensity and charisma in his delivery is flat-out fun to listen to. The trunk rattlin' "10 Toes" is a posse cut where J.D., Slim, Daz, J-Kwon, and Stat Quo take turns spittin' their best game for the ladies. The song succeeds because each rapper takes a unique approach to reel in the shorties using completely different vocal deliveries: J.D.'s monotone cockiness, Slim's youthful pep, Daz's high-octane eagerness, J-Kwon's laid-back cool, and Stat Quo's gruff straight-to-the-pointness. Comfortably in his element, J.D. comes through for his best performance of the album:

"I got my Duke full-court press on anything in a dress
walkin' from Atlanta, New York to out West
Mouth piece hard at work, two-way cocked ready to beam
I ain't stoppin' 'til you're down with the team
I got a hundred-and-one lines that'll make you think two times
before you walk away without givin' me your hotline
Palm Pilot out and my phone flipped up
I'm on all ten toes like, "Baby what's up!"
I don't care where she's at, I don't care who's around
If she fits the prototype then it's gotta go down
In the club I get the drinks pourin', compliment game goin'
You ain't been with me, that's why your life's so boring"

Unfortunately, it's one of only a handful of standout moments in an overall "so what?" album. As aforementioned, J.D. shines brightest when he brings in the brightest stars. The light is pretty dim on this album. "Young, Fly, & Flashy Vol. 1" is a candle to "Life in 1472"'s sun. That shit don't even out.

Music Vibes: 6 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5.5 of 10

Originally posted: August 2, 2005