Although historians and Gangsta Rap disciples often mention Eazy E and Dr. Dre’s names before his, it was MC Ren that was the lyrical bash brother with Ice Cube in N.W.A. The Compton emcee’s fierce loyalty to Ruthless Records never gave him the profile that Dr. Dre earned at Death Row, or Cube received in Hollywood, while Lorenzo’s Pro Black, sometimes Islamic message often restricted his crossover appeal, keeping him in the jurisdiction of those who could relate.
Having never released catalog away from Eric “Eazy E” Wright’s historic label, MC Ren took 11 years off from album-making. After rare and notable appearances on Dr. Dre’s 2001 and Snoop Dogg’s Tha Last Meal, the reclusive veteran had long warned of a return, but never delivered. In late 2009, RenIncarnated snuck out digitally, pairing the villain of Rap with production from contemporaries Tha Chill and E-A-Ski. Although Ren’s ‘00s work doesn’t quite live up to that of 15 or 20 years ago, he joins Cube in advancing the N.W.A. story, and using his raps to reveal what the shy emcee has been thinking all along.
“Black Star Line” is MC Ren giving fans what they may expect from his solo projects. “A new year, but the same fuckin’ bullshit / House niggas know that they ain’t gonna pull shit,” starts off the second verse. Issues of race rarely discussed at Rap’s 2010 table are addressed by Ren, over the same Grace Jones sample used by Shyne on his 1999 hit “Bad Boys.” The song packs punch, and the California emcee asserts his authority with his classic rigid delivery and stern tone. “Return Of The Villain” is a bolder, self-produced track. Ren says that he has never vacated a throne, and that with new generation rappers calling themselves legends, that he must be an icon. Few could disagree with that, but Ren’s continued claims about “smoking your dosia” and “fucking your bitch” do little to prove he’s maintained his level of excellence. The 2008-recorded track crutches legacy, as Ren name-checks N.W.A. singles, but seems confused as how to command his influence. Without a doubt, Ren earned the right to say what he’s rapping – and he’s right. But back to the fundamental Rap rules of show and prove, MC Ren needs to look at east coast peer Big Daddy Kane as far as how to make it count, and still live up to the rep of yesteryear.
For the first time in his career, Ren uses no assistance from N.W.A. brothers. Without DJ Yella or Dr. Dre providing sounds, Tha Chill, of Compton’s Most Wanted drops in for a stamp of support. “Showtime” is polished proof that Chill was a good choice, with a nice mix of Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick interpolations and west coast percussion. On a song about doing shows though, Ren does little to really say anything. He describes a routine act, and rhymes various California cities. Dr. Dre’s ad-libs on “California Love” equate to Ren’s verses on “Showtime,” and a Rap icon misses an opportunity to say something substantial. “The Villainist Tales” is much more interesting. On an Americanized-Dub beat courtesy of Apocalypse, Ren updates Too Short’s 1987 classic “Freaky Tales” by telling stories of his life. While the verses are saturated with numerous mentions of smoking and drinking, the frustration Ren feels towards the Johnny-Come-Lately rappers of today comes across. As he is repeatedly overlooked by historians, every emcee that mentions a gun or raises suspicion against law enforcement owes Ren a debt of gratitude.
Like its been spoofed in films like CB4, in the wake of N.W.A., MC Ren set a precedent for choosing substance over stardom. Twenty-four years after Eazy E’s group put their first album out, Ren shows no regrets in that decision. Renincarnated is not a 40 year-old rapper trying to reintroduce himself or change up his sound. The villain appeases his core, and although many of his rhymes could have probably used some more thought and conceptuality, Ren is really just saying, “Forget me not.” There is no bitterness in the message, but a warning shot that a true west coast pillar hasn’t passed the microphone yet.