New York: A Love Story (to be released September 30, 2013)
I really want Tristan Wilds to win.
He’s one of my favorite actors from one of my favorite TV shows ever (Michael Lee from HBO’s “The Wire”). His debut album was overseen by one of the game’s most underrated producers, Salaam Remi. And unlike many of his young peers, “Mack” Wilds knows his hip-hop history.
His album lives up to its name. New York: A Love Story is not only an ode to relationships but a dedication to the birthplace of hip hop.
In my review of Drake’s latest album, I went in on Aubrey for “Wu-Tang tributes” that were nothing but his usual low-fat Yoplait tracks with Wu references tossed around. The results were mad hollow. That’s not the case with Mack, who along with Remi, has recaptured the gritty soul that birthed a movement.
Like Drake, Mack seamlessly swaps between singing and rapping. He goes toe-to-toe (and flow for flow) with fellow Staten Island native Method Man on the album opener “Wild Things” while churning out a rugged R&B cut with “Own It.” Both sound totally different but are authentically NY.
Rap scholars will enjoy playing “guess the sample” while listening to Mack’s debut. On “My Crib,” Mack’s mellow vocals glide over The Moments’ “What’s Your Name,” better known as the sample behind Jay-Z’s “You, Me, Him and Her” on his Dynasty album. Later, Mack lays his game down quite flat on “Henny,” which borrows Mobb Deep’s “The Learning (Burn).” DJ Premier’s trademark scratches bless “Keepin’ It Real” while Pete Rock cooks up classic boom bap on “Duck Sauce.”
Mack’s debut album boasts a lineup that would make even a 10-year veteran jealous. So what went wrong?
Well, it comes down to a case of too much, too soon.
Mack’s talented, no doubt. But many times he comes off as a talented rookie thrust in the midst of superstar ball players. Everyone around him is great, and we already know that. Their talent overshadows his own.
Want an example? Listen to “U Can Cry to Me.” Raekwon the Chef kicks down the door, bum rushes the track, chokeslams everything in sight and then vanishes, totally snatching Mack’s shine. Likewise, Mack’s remake of Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” is solid but again he’s forced to play second fiddle to arguably the greatest pop singer of all time. It’s a tough mountain to climb.
I really wish we got more tracks like “Don’t Turn Me Down.” Salaam and Rico Love create an airy, dreamlike atmosphere for Mack’s falsetto to float through. It’s unlike anything you’d expect from him and it works to perfection.
New York: A Love Story shows boatloads of potential. The production is phenomenal. The guest stars are magnificent. Mack? Well, he’s just OK. But I’m confident that Mack’s career in the booth can be as successful as his career behind the camera. We already know his mentors are stars, they’ve proven it already. Next time out, maybe Mack can prove that he’s also a legend in the making.
I hope so. I want him to win.
Best tracks: “Don’t Turn Me Down,” “Own It,” “Remember the Time”
3 stars out of 5