Top 5 Dead or Alive (released November 20, 2015)
Well, since I know it’s gonna come up, let’s go ahead and get this out of the way:
Top 5 Rappers Dead or Alive:
- The Notorious B.I.G.
- Jay Z
Not even the mighty Jadakiss can crack that list. But that doesn’t mean Jada isn’t one of the best ever to bless the mike.
Back in the mid-90s, when The LOX kicked the doors of hip-hop off its hinges, Jadakiss was always the group’s standout MC — trademark raspy voice, charisma that bled through the speakers and punchlines that could floor Tyson. With three solid solo LPs and a handful of successful singles under his belt, Jada’s unquestionably one of the game’s greatest voices.
But he’s not THE greatest voice. At least not yet. That’s the hunger that drives Top 5 Dead or Alive, an album a half decade in the making.
“Most of them is lovin’ me, some of them hatin’ me/Say he’s underrated, depending on whose rating me,” Kiss quips on the album intro “First 48.” Jada’s an underdog who makes moves like a heavyweight champ, spitting bars as if his life depends on it but with the confidence of seasoned pro.
And if you’re a fan of unbridled lyricism, this is the album for you.
Jadakiss is no stranger to Top 40 mainstream success but he’s truly at his best when delivering endless punchlines over concrete-cracking beats. The haunting “Jason” puts Kiss directly in his comfort zone, threatening his foes who make a move for his crown. “You Don’t Eat” reminds young rappers of his OG status:
It’s the angel versus the reaper
You might not know but it gets deeper
You heard my name on the last verse of Ether
While even putting fellow veterans on notice on “Rain”:
It’s a lot of pain in my tears
Dark thoughts turn into criminal ideas
Just like where do you see yourself in five years
I’ve always been a superior to my peers
Yeah and my reign ain’t stop yet
Even though its mostly the lames that got wet
And speaking of those peers, Jadakiss always delivers his best work when he can play off other strong voices. Nas brings his usual brand of excellence to the aforementioned “Rain.” Sheek Louch and Young Buck link for the self-explanatory “Realest In The Game” and Lil Wayne continues his comeback tour on “Kill.”
But as always, it’s Kiss’ tag-team delivery with Styles P on “Synergy” that really steals the show, effortlessly meshing the pair like two rap superpowers. Best of all, Just Blaze’s triumphant horns transforms the track into a spiritual successor to the duo’s 2001 classic, “We Gonna Make It.” It’s one of the strongest beats on the album.
Despite the wealth of material here — with Jadakiss sounding more focused than he has in a decade — the album falls into the same pitfall that plagued The Game’s releases this year. There is just too much material and sometimes the album starts to crack under its own weight. “Man in the Mirror,” “You Can See” and “Cutlass” all feature overbearing hooks and sound more like mixtape fodder. And considering America’s current social climate, I wish we could have heard more tracks like “So High” and “Y.O. (Youthful Offenders),” which really speak to the soul of black America. The latter is an especially poignant commentary of America’s penal system:
Learned how to clap before he learned how to stack
Now he doing 30-something years in the max
With numbers like that it take years to relax
And it’s violent so it’s mandatory years on the back
That’s when Jada’s status as hip-hop’s elder statesmen really shines brightest.
Top 5 Dead or Alive is the typical strong outing from one of hip-hop’s greatest lyricists but probably not the undeniable classic we’ve been promised for so long. Top 5 Dead or Alive might be a stretch, but Top 5 Album of the Year? That’s more like like.
Best tracks: “Jason,” “Synergy,” “Rain”
4 stars out of 5