When Hip Hop heads think of delayed albums, the go-to example is Dr. Dre’s now-mythical Detox. But a more overlooked instance – earning the dubious distinction of being delayed nearly as long as Dre’s third LP – happens to have begun in the house that the good doctor built. This very piece is a testament to Stat Quo's Statlanta’s seemingly endless delays, since this is at least the third time in as many years I’ve been assigned to write this review.
Much has changed since 2003, when only 50 Cent preceded Stat Quo in being an artist signed to both Shady and Aftermath Records. The label’s well-documented dominance until 2006 was followed by a period of just-as-well-documented listlessness. Maybe it was the music industry’s dwindling sales; maybe it was Eminem’s battle with drugs. Or maybe Shady/Aftermath no longer had faith in its roster. Whatever the reason, Stat decided things were headed nowhere fast, and in 2008, the Atlanta rapper took his project elsewhere. But the question remains: is this the same Statlanta fans would’ve gotten had he stayed with Em and Dre?
The appropriately-titled “The Beginning” takes the listener to Statlanta in epic fashion. Thunderous bass and synth choruses accompany Stat as he gets down to the nitty gritty from the get go with a somber delivery: “This is Statlanta with no Em and no Dre / Just nothing but the mothafuckin’ A (okay) / They can’t keep him away, he’s too resourceful / Gettin’ that gwap with the glock by my torso / Young terror from the crack era / I turn never into a guarantee, God speaks through me / This is my bio, read my life / Tune your ears to my soul, let the music bring light / No hype, no gimmicks, Obie told me / There’s no love in this game, most niggas sold D.”
A welcome addition to just about any Rap album is Marsha Ambrosius, and “Welcome Back” is a testament to that fact. The soulful track is a departure from the one that preceded it, but Stat capably rhymes over the silky-smooth beat. “Ghetto U.S.A.” is similarly laid back, and has Statlanta, three tracks in, on its way to something special. Sadly, Stat Quo can’t resist the requisite “thug-love” song. More “Karma” than “Bar Trap,” “Dedicated” finds its place among hundreds of other half-assed cuts about the opposite sex.
“Success (Back to U)” serves as Statlanta’s lead single, and it’s easy to tell why. Producer Phonix does his best Dr. Dre impressions with simple piano and string progressions over satisfying drum claps, while Stat talks shit: “Me and success, we make a pretty fine couple.” “Catch Me” is instantly forgettable with its regrettable '80s-synth aspirations and, while “Cry” covers admirable subject matter, the execution just isn’t there. Nice guest spots by Raheem DeVaughn and Devin The Dude (“Lie to You”) and Talib Kweli (“Alright” ) help elevate the album on the back end, only to be dragged down by “What I Like,” with is typical subject matter and “Drop the World” knock-off beat.
At first glance, Statlanta’s tracklist shows little sign of having retained much of its originally-intended content. Frequent Aftermath collaborators Needlz, Focus… and Sha Money XL all offered their production services, giving a possible glimpse on what could’ve been. But, ultimately, how close this album is to the version that could’ve dropped in ’04 is irrelevant. What is relevant is that Statlanta went from an ensemble cast potential smash to a one-man show that still carries his gifts, even if the second half of the album loses steam. "What could have been" turns a solid page into "what will be."