In the early aughties, Black Rob seemed destined for greatness as Bad Boy’s resident rough-neck. His hardcore lyricism was a refreshing alternative to Puff and the gang’s bling-bling boasts. Unfortunately, he faced a roadblock in his path to success when he was sentenced to seven years in the pen for grand larceny. B.R. caught a break when he was released after four years in May 2010. Since then, he’s joined forces with Duck Down Records and crafted a new album titled Game Tested, Street Approved, which was released today. But after all this time, does Black Rob still got it? Read on to find out.
Call it a Comeback
Comebacks in hip-hop don’t occur when an artist takes forever to release a new album (I’m looking at you, Dre). They occur when an artist falls off and returns to prominence, or spends a few years in the bing and comes out swinging. In this case, it’s the latter. On his first album in six years, Black Rob proves that not only has he not lost a step, he’s gained a few. His delivery and flow are still a great fit for the grimy bravado he spits, and his rhyming skills remain intact. What’s more, he’s shown remarkable growth as an artist, taking on deep self-reflection without losing his edge. He also joins the pantheon of emcees who can keep an album dope on the solo; Sean Price drops by on the last track to provide a stellar coda, but other than that, it’s all Black Rob.
As Real as it Gets
Black Rob speaks like a real O.G. who’s seen it all. While his earlier records were filled with wild gun talk, B.R.’s newfound maturity is showcased on Game Tested, Street Approved. Make no mistake, he can still spit a raw, uncut 16 filled with entertaining, albeit violent, braggadocio. The difference is that this time he shows remorse for his past indiscretion and for setting a poor example for kids. He isn’t always looking back, though. The album’s closer, “No Fear,” proclaims his quest for greatness with inspiring passion. He also remembers to enjoy the moment on “Celebration” a track that feels more like a block-party anthem than a club one.
Holy Awesome Production, Batman!
Black Rob supplements his superb lyricism with the best-produced album yet this year (sorry, Just Blaze). The lush production brilliantly straddles the line between catchy beats and a classic east coast sound. Make no mistake, though; B.R. is never overshadowed by the music. Like all great hip-hop, the lyrics and the beats complement each other extraordinarily well.
Score One for New York
It’s been quite a while since a NY rapper came out with a trademark Rotten Apple sound and crafted a great album. The wait is over; Game Tested, Street Approved is a remarkable work from start to finish. Even songs that seem like obligatory odes to women and money manage to sound smooth, both because of the production and the way Black Rob carries the track. His lyrics show that he’s superior, but he is not belittling or condescending. Other New York rhyme-slingers take note; you don’t have to act like a lyric-snob to get your message across or make great hip-hop.