It’s fun for us to sit back and joke about so-and-so being “The Pras” of the group, but it can’t be fun for the actual emcee in question. It’s probably even harder for him after the crew has more or less disbanded and he’s still left trying to scrape together a career in a cutthroat market where his affiliation won’t carry him through the first 350,000 units. While U-God [click to read] isn’t delivering a classic with his latest, it does seem that he knows what he’s up against and puts a reasonable effort into Dopium instead of resting completely on his laurels.

While there are a few strange choices, much of the album is still better than you’d expect, especially on the first half where the gritty drums and horn samples create a reasonable approximation of The RZA‘s [click to read] sound. “Train Trussle” [click to listen] feels like a good start for this very reason and through the first half of the album, the “try to sound like a middle-era Wu song” strategy works pretty well. “Cocaine” [click to listen] (with Raekwon [click to read]) again leans towards the vintage sound, finding U-God keeping up with his higher-profile brother better than in the past.

That’s not to say that “Golden Arms” surpasses “Chef,” and the superiority of his guests is a problem more than once. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with his rhymes on “Magnum Force” [click to listen], but Jim Jones [click to read] and Sheek Louch [click to read], both also once seen as afterthoughts to their respective crews, do a better job showing why they’ve managed to shake those reputations. The hooks are often unimaginative placeholders to separate verses (“Stomp Da Roach” [click to listen]) and the verses themselves are frequently interchangeable.

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As is typical with this type of album, the real mistakes come when U-God tries to venture out of his lane into more “radio friendly” fare (whatever that means anymore). He unnecessarily crams an awkward club single into the album with “Hips.” This then makes the screwed hook on “Wu-Tang” (with Method Man) seem that much less sincere, not to mention the pure ridiculousness of “Rims Pokin’ Out” a bit later. There are also a few strange House/Techno flavored remixes of the singles tacked on to the end–the less said about those, the better.

Dopium is an underdog that you may want to root for and U-God won’t make you feel like a complete fool for supporting him. There will surely be more exciting releases this year, but the half dozen decent songs are worth a few spins. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II will be here soon enough, but in the meantime, Dopium has enough sting to keep  Killa Bees devotees satisfied.