Black Rob, Life Story (2000)
Black Rob’s debut Life Story is an intriguing mixture of hardcore poses and pop aesthetics. The Spanish Harlem rapper often refers to his impoverished youth, telling us on “Life Story” that he remembers when his mother “rushed me/The time you said you should have flushed me/I forgive you, Ma, trust me.” But his strength doesn’t lie in his authenticity, but in an engaging personality and conversational flow that contrast with his stark tales of robbery and gunplay. Unfortunately, Black Rob also has an annoying tendency to stumble through his raps, mumbling lines like “Nobody know where he came from/Or got his name from/All they know is he killed Keith with the same gun,” destroying any momentum his flow may have generated — or is that his style? Former Bad Boy trio The Lox provide a much-needed dose of lyricism on “Can I Live,” ostensibly recorded before their highly publicized exodus from the label last year. Life Story also shines on production. Simply put, this is the Hitmen’s best work — Puff Daddy’s fabled stable of multi-platinum producers — since the late Notorious B.I.G.’s salad days. Most are familiar with producer Buckwild’s work on the rowdy hit “Whoa.” There’s also the eerily tense “Muscle Game,” “PD World Tour’s” kaleidoscopic xylophone sound, and a fresh perspective on a played-out David Axelrod piano sample with “Lookin’ At Us.” The Hitmen wrap Black Rob’s rhymes into a musical package better composed than most of this year’s rap albums, vindicating Life Story’s clumsy blend of pop charm and thug menace.