Being in jail is no simple thing. When some sort of complicated situation lands people in jail, it will almost certainly change that person in some type of way. Readjusting to life on the outside can be more of a struggle than being on the inside, as recidivism rates worldwide always prove. So for someone like Black Rob, who did a very inconvenient four year bid, the opportunity to get back on the outside and pursue a legitimate career with an established independent label (in the form of Duck Down Records) is perhaps the best thing that could have happened to him. Now free of the nuisance of parole and his issues with Bad Boy Records, and presented with the opportunity to reestablish himself both as a rapper and as simply a man, Rob presents his audience with his first album since 2005, Game Tested, Streets Approved.
Contrary to popular belief, not all emcees come out of the correctional system as better lyricists. Though Black Rob shows growth as a person on tracks such as “Showin Up,” where he admits his flaws and addresses criticisms throughout bars such as, “for years I’ve been a slave to money, girls, and clothes, and manmade creations and incarceration, parole and probation, stipulations, violations, visitations and vindications,” that also seems to be the height of his lyricism on the album as well. The soulfully vocal sample-driven instrumental on the track is the perfect backdrop to Rob’s introspection, and allows the song to stand out as one of the best on Game Tested, Streets Approved, alongside “No Fear” featuring Sean Price (and his cosign-inducing bar, “Brooklyn’s finest, fuck police, your wife’s a cop? Then fuck police”). On the flip, tracks such as “Welcome Back” and “Can’t Make It In NY” have that type of unpolished sound and average flow that one would expect from a rapper selling mixtapes out of their hand around the block, not from someone who had a single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
And though it’s nice to know that Rob stopped robbing and seems to be living his life free of illegalities, there are signs in his words that even after a year out of jail, his thought process is still at least slightly institutionalized. The Breyan Isaac-assisted “Celebration” details the glory of the beloved summertime BBQ in New York City. Yet amidst the quips about steaks on the grill, the neighborhood swimming pool, and chasing women around with water guns instead of actual guns, he manages to throw in lines such as “nutcrackers, cold beer and sodas, calisthenics work arms, legs, and shoulders.” Though calisthenics may not be a part of the average backyard BBQ, one can only imagine that it’s a part of a prison yard summer.
There is more to Black Rob than “Whoa,” but there is nothing that quite lives up to it on Game Tested, Streets Approved. The LP is not for the sheepish – it’s chock full of true-to-life tales of incarceration and struggle, but realness in this case cannot overshadow average musicality. Though one must commend Black Rob for trying to rap his way back into society rather than turning to what landed him in the bing in the first place, this may not be enough to reestablish the spot he once held in the Rap scene.