It’s hard to imagine many figures within Hip Hop as influential as Kool G Rap in the late ‘80s. At the peak of Marley Marl and the Juice Crew’s prominence, singles like “Poison” and “Men At Work” from G Rap and DJ Polo’s debut cemented a style and technicality of emceeing that fueled lyricists throughout the ‘90s and beyond. Rappers like Black Thought and Eminem continue to publicly trace their approach directly back to the Queens emcee, and while Necro may have found niche success in his own lane, he has obviously molded his lyrical attack after his current collaborator’s design.
Together, the pair readied this album publicly nearly two years ago with a download that consolidated previously released material from each artist into a long-form mixtape. They announced Once Upon A Crime shortly after with early plans for a first half of 2012 release. While the album is a fair split of Necro and G Rap trading verses, it’s the progenitor of ‘death rap’ and producer Domingo that handle the production across the board. The two rappers coming together for a full album isn’t a completely unexpected move, but the project does carry the odd effect of a veteran tagging alongside a caricature of his own prototype.
Most of the album’s production falls in line with Necro’s penchant for the hardcore with brooding, repetitive loops carrying much of the weight. Even when both are painting violent crime narratives, G Rap’s delivery often manages to maintain its coolness while Necro is characteristically uptight and strained in comparison. Throughout the project’s 18 tracks both artists let off verse after verse of convoluted raps and randomly gruesome references. Necro sticks to his Horrorcore guns with a barrage of violent threats to no one in particular. “Sharp axe up your cardiovascular / Spill your plasma / Smooth like a Jazz player / Blast Slayer,” he raps on “The City.” G Rap opens his verse with the same type of rhymes he helped popularize nearly 25 years ago, adding, “On the verge of a murder way / Burner spray / Mercury tip shit, vibrate every disc in your vertebrae / Viet veteran vest deads all the metal in.”
Unfortunately mostly one-dimensional production and an overly exacting approach to song formation quickly bog down the album. The first eight tracks noticeably find Necro rapping first and the verse-hook-verse-hook formula adds to a droning effect by the middle of the project. Still, the album is broken up by obvious standouts and the first couple bars of songs like “Hustler” and “American Sickos,” which help perk things up. “Hustler” in particular is a welcome break from the benchmark with its funkier bassline and vocal sample. “The Pain” sounds like an early bet for a switch-up given its Soul-tinged vocal sample in the beginning, but it quickly collapses into another sinister anthem. The first single, “Heart Attack,” is as well executed as anything else on the album with its crime drama sound and G Rap lines like, “Walk around in the ghetto, metal heavy as sewer lids / Beautiful view to where dope shooters and users live.” “Omerta” (and later the title track) succumb to the album’s concept a bit predictably with samples that sound like they may have been lifted from The Godfather theme or at least from a similar ilk.
Taken as a whole, Once Upon A Crime strikes the same chord over and over again for nearly an hour. Subject matter and dramatic lyricism aside, the beats only cement a droning effect that sets disappointingly early. Necro’s fanbase will undoubtedly rush to the album as a source of more material to pore over, and for many of them, Kool G Rap will be a vaguely familiar extra. The casual fan or those keeping up with G Rap’s late career output might find a handful of songs worth mining, but without a previous investment in the over-the-top style, listening through is a test of endurance. There’s plenty of clever lyricism throughout, but with Necro’s brand and Kool G Rap’s title long established, Once Upon A Crime is little more than another notch under the collective belt.