Like many of the “golden era” emcees of yesteryear, Kurupt has a bit of a dilemma on his hands. What do you do if you were responsible for crafting past classics like “Ain’t No Fun” and “New York, New York” but still have enough fire left to keep creating albums instead of being forced into Rap retirement? If you’re Kurupt, you go the independent route and keep making albums with your friends.
Having freed himself from the formulaic constraints of being signed to a major, Kurupt no longer has to cater to mainstream radio. Forced singles such as “It’s Over” have given way to more natural cuts such as “I’m Burnt.” The latter has as much bounce to it as anything SoCal residents will hear on Power 106, yet it’s just as authentic as anything Kurupt has ever made.
That authenticity also bleeds over into the rest of Streetlights. After a down period that saw his once powerful bark reduced to a sedated lyrical growl, Kurupt seems to have as much control over his delivery as he did in 1993. He effortlessly switches from subdued elder statesman on “All That I Want” and “Bounce, Rock, Skate” back to the magma spewing emcee he was introduced as on “In Gotti We Trust.”
In short, his days of lazy metaphors such as “Explode like explosions” have gone the way of the pullout radio. During one of his full-disclosure moments on “Questions,” Kurupt addresses rumors such as the infamous Suge Knight beatdowns at Death Row Records and his ex-fiancée Foxy Brown. Over Terrace Martin’s successful experiment in minimalism, Kurupt shows he still has his ear to the streets, rhyming, “How’d you meet Snoop, was it at the Roxy? / I can’t believe you knew ‘Pac / Heatrocks / Are we gonna see you on Detox?” His past made for great tabloid gossip before the days of TMZ and Bossip, and it’s refreshing to see that Kurupt acknowledges it instead of running from it.
In one sense, some listeners (and Kurupt for that matter) may be a bit too old to be impressed with crude dick and pussy fare offered on tracks such as “I’m Drunk” and “Scrape.” But this is the guy who co-wrote “Ain’t No Fun” and “Bomb Azz Pussy,” (albeit nearly 15 years ago.) If anyone has a right to revisit that territory it’s “Young Gotti.” It’s just that after successfully balancing gangsta ignorance and grown man elegance on 2009’s Blaqkout, it almost feels like Kurupt is taking a half step backwards. However, none of Streetlights’ few shortcomings can be blamed on the production, which is mostly handled by Terrace Martin, with one offering each from Pete Rock and Lil Jon.
Terrace doesn’t quite capture the instant chemistry Kurupt achieved with the likes of DJ Quik, Fred Wreck or Dogg Pound partner Daz Dillinger. Based on his current body of work, it seems more a matter of when he’ll be able to craft his own classic than if. In terms of variety, Martin balances out synths, live instruments, re-interpretations of previous classics and his own array of different drums to already warrant consideration as one of the left coast’s best producers. You can make the argument that the pupil outshines the teacher this time around.
Streetlights is a quality enough album that, even with a few flaws, it ranks as a superior offering. It stands up as a solid follow up to Blaqkout, and some of Kurupt’s lesser-known independent projects. From a listener’s perspective, Kurupt is enjoying a renaissance; he hasn’t put together a string of consistently high quality projects like this since releasing Tha Streetz Is A Mutha. While some of the West’s founding fathers are beefing with the self-proclaimed “New West,” newcomers such as Problem and Terrace Martin seem to have energized the Kurupt. Without resorting to the tired cliché about old dogs and new tricks, suffice it to say that die hard DPG fans will be pleased to see how Kurupt has adapted to the current state of the Hip Hop game.