The city of Philadelphia may forever be known as the town that plays second fiddle to New York Hip Hop, but it is a town rich with musical innovators. Steeped heavily in the same Philly sound that’s produced legends such as Gamble & Huff, Nina Simone and John Coltrane, its dense sonics have provided the backbone for many of its denizens all over the rap spectrum; from godfather Schoolly D and Mr. Hollywood himself Will Smith, to former “pit bull in a skirt” Eve and the legendary Roots Crew.
Speaking of The Roots, they’ve quite possibly become one of the most influential acts from Philadelphia in recent memory, even directly bolstering the Roc-A-Fella dynasty when they debuted rhyme slinger Beanie Sigel back in 1999. Since then he’s gone on to become one of the more consistent artists today, powering through three albums of soul-drenched earnestness spliced with as much blunt force as Jamal Lewis. Although his career teetered towards nonexistence when the original Dynasty splintered apart while he was in prison, the Broad Street Bully has trudged on, reuniting (of sorts) with his State Property associates and, after a two year absence, finally released his fourth album The Solution.
Like his partner Freeway’s severely overlooked masterful opus Free At Last, The Solution is also noticeably devoid of the two staples of the Roc’s resurgence in the beginning stages of this new millennium: Kanye West and Just Blaze. And like Freeway, Beans outsourced the services of established and new jack producers. Unfortunately, things get off to a bumpy start with the lead single All Of The Above, featuring former Jigga co-conspirator R. Kelly. While it does not sound like a typical, flaccid single of today, The Runners-produced cut feels definitely out of place on the album. Things continue to fare poorly on Bout That (Let Me Know), as Cool and Dre’s hollow drum steps and annoying wailing sample do little to complement Sigel’s materialistic boasts.
Speaking of which, The Solution showcases a seemingly more chipper Mac Mittens (perhaps due to staying out of trouble for most of this year), as his toasts to the good life pop up more often than before throughout the album. I’m In is a sluggish, obligatory ode to the females, and Diddy nearly ruins the momentum of Pass The Patron, also featuring label mates Peedi Crakk and Ghostface Killah. It’s when he teams up with a rejuvenated Jigga on the bass-heavy Gutted, however, where the action truly shines.
Beanie is at his best when he’s at his worst – vivid images of violence interspersed with equally menacing beats. Case in point: the murky You Ain’t Ready For Me, where he’s trading barbs with D-Block platoon leader Styles P. He’s much better when he steps outside his comfort zone for a pair of head-scratching duets: Dear Self with James Blunt, and the rock-tinged Judgment Day, one of his more creative endeavors, utilizing power chords and a sample from the Prince Of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne.
Had his former backers worked with him on the album, The Solution would have been the perfect bookend to Freeway’s sophomore set. While it shows flashes of brilliance, it is ultimately another example of what could have been had the Roc didn’t break up.