While Saigon’s plight with the music industry is surely not a special case, it is still a revealing source of the intricate flaws that accompany being signed to a major label. Shelved as an artist due to marketing issues and unable to procure proper liberation from Atlantic Records, the New York rapper born Brian Carenard found himself shackled to a diminishing Rap career, a notion that was all too familiar for the former prison inmate. Five years later and finally off the label at the ripe age of 33, Saigon hopes to capture in one debut album what his peers have done in three to four releases with The Greatest Story Never Told.
As proven by his venerable mixtape past, Saigon’s ability to maneuver through various topics becomes his best asset on The Greatest Story Never Told. Whether it’s his disdain for the streets that paved a rugged road to the slammer on “Enemies,” or his aim to set a better impression for the youth with “Believe It,” Saigon’s convictions over enticing beats reveal a man with a lot on his mind and the right medium to display these thoughts. Taking his criticism a step further, Saigon launches a verbal assault on corrupt pastors who coerce their congregation for offerings that they in turn pocket for their own good will. Channeling memories from the past, he rhymes, “We was fucking depending on Section 8 / But always had something to put in your collection plate / It was always so strange, it was odd / To see my mom scratching up change to give it to God / I think we all knew, nobody saying shit / You was using that to pay your car payments / We was mother fucking paying your mortgage / We was living in the projects you know we couldn’t afford it.”
In a similar manner, the Yardfather tackles more troubling issues that have taken its toll in inner-city communities. Over somber production provided jointly by Kanye West and Just Blaze for “It’s Alright,” Saigon drops words of encouragement for single mothers struggling to raise their kids while Marsha Ambrosius’ reassuring vocals bring the point home: “To all the ladies having babies on they own / These nigga’s ain’t shit ma, for real, yo you better off alone / If he ain’t smart enough to know why he should stay / Then what can he possibly teach your seed anyway?” Then there’s the grim reality check on “Oh Yeah (Our Babies),” a sobering record that discusses the eventual demise for at-risk youth. Familiar with this tragic outcome, Saigon raps, “The drama’s pitiful, little nigga’s is homicidical / Couple meals ago shorty was eating through his umbilical / Now he’s feeling unkillable, shit is all amazing / The wrong altercation will leave his ass with a long abrasion.”
To be fair, Saigon’s approach in execution wouldn’t have been as effective had it not been for veteran producer Just Blaze. In that respect, this album is as much a testament to Just’s vision as it is Sai-Giddy’s lyrical skills. From seamless transitions between tracks to molding the entire album through an alarm clock radio complete with Hip Hop personalities Fat Man Scoop, DJ Green Lantern and Miss Info, Just Blaze also delivers with some of his best production to date. Take for instance “The Invitation” a thunderous beat dripping with swagger and a minacious sample. Needless to say, the nod factor behind this joint is through the roof. Then, styling “Clap” , around a church theme, a choir spearheaded by R&B songstress Faith Evans harmonizes an uplifting hook that would fit right into Kirk Franklin’s next studio session. Building a grandiose backdrop, Just Blaze appropriately blends dense organ chords, lush piano keys and pulsating drums for a record that becomes an audible treat.
Sparse yet quite noticeable, the biggest pitfalls on The Greatest Story Never Told come at times when Saigon performs out of his comfort zone. Prime example; the radio-friendly record “Give It To Me.” Here we find Sai-Giddy swapping thought-provoking lyricism for material bordering on denigration. Granted, it’s not as tasteless as “For Some Pussy” from Warning Shots 2, but its low subject value is costly. With a more rock-oriented vibe on “Bring Me Down Pt. 2,” Saigon’s delivery sounds flat compared to the explosive drums brimming throughout. In other instances, technical blunders such as the weak vocoder hook on “Believe It” or the failed sample clearance on “Come On Baby” detract from the album’s experience. True, it’s hard to blame Just Blaze and Saigon on the latter issue as that was solely Atlantic’s job to complete, however the re-worked version here simply doesn’t match the same ferocity it did with the original sample.
Whether you’ve been patiently waiting for five years or just recently got into Saigon’s music, The Greatest Story Never Told delivers a stimulating message that is as cautionary as it is entertaining. Likewise, the album’s quality has stood the test of time, no small feat for an industry that changes eras every three to four years. Still rough around the edges but lyrically adept, Saigon’s mixtape glory days are now over, and the bar will inevitably be set higher for his next release. Let’s just hope the title of that project doesn’t have any ironic overtones in it.