After signing with Diddy in 2002, many hoped that the Bad Boy mogul would garner 8Ball & MJG the long overdue exposure and record sales that they rightfully deserved. Despite taking their career in an arguably unfavorable direction, the Orange Mound duo did receive their third gold plaque for an album (Living Legends) that, at the time, included their best chart-performing single to date (“You Don’t Want No Drama”). While the deal served its purpose, ‘Ball & G left desiring guidance from a label with a more southern perspective, ideally one that has a core audience that grew up listening to the two. With T.I. himself owing his youthful spitfire to MJG’s punctual flow, a joint venture with Grand Hustle seemingly appeared to be an appropriate fit.
As discussed in their HipHopDX interview, there is an evident “B.C.” and “A.D.” divide among fans, separating their legendary Suave House days from those after. B.C., 8Ball & MJG’s sound was synonymous with their go-to producer T-Mix’s authentically slow, heavy Southern beats, which incorporated warm elements of Soul and late ‘70s and early ‘80s Funk. A.D., the duo’s beats have been increasingly synthetic and at times mismatched, pairing the Orange Mound natives with the likes of Swizz Beatz and even Gorilla Zoe.
Rather than using samples like previous efforts, Ten Toes Down opts for organic live instrumentation, including string guitars, horns, deejay scratches, and keyboards. However, much of the production continues to lack inspiration and polish, including poorly arranged sound effects and keys on “Fuck U Mean” and the downright hollow, overly simplistic “Bring It Back.” Meanwhile, other tracks like David Banner’s Blues-spirited “I Don’t Give A Fuck” is sadly, just too upbeat for 8Ball & MJG. Fortunately, some of Ten Toes Down’s more redeeming production comes from the Gospel-influenced “Billy (Truth Be Told)” and former No Limit producer Mo B. Dick’s down-tempo, The Isley Brothers-inspired “Right Now.”
In addition to Grand Hustle’s roster and regular collaborators, Ten Toes Down recruits Texans Bun B and Slim Thug as well as Soulja Boy. Aside from T.I.’s subliminal diss on “What They Do” and David Banner’s exceptional verse on “We Come From,” many of the collaborations seem forced and even unnatural, particularly on the A.D. end of the spectrum. Although it is comforting to see the UGK connection remain alive, B.C. advocates have long desired for rekindled relationships with more-established southern artists like Outkast and Goodie Mob and even west coast gangsta rap artists like E-40 and Too Short.
Throughout their career, there have been very few topics where 8Ball & MJG’s storytelling has excelled: cartoon-like crime situations, raunchy, yet humorous, pimp escapades, sincere inspirational talks, and introspective tales that reflect on their careers. Approaching 40 years old, Ball & G’s raunchier, rowdier days are long behind them. Although Drumma Boy is able to show glimpses of their more aggressive past on “Ten Toes Down” and even “It’s Goin’ Down,” the tracks that provide the most sustenance for B.C. fans are those reflective tracks concentrated toward the album’s end like “Life Goes On” and “Still Will Remain.”
Lacking evolution by continually conceding to major labels’ cookie-cutter templates, Ten Toes Down comes as a disappointment, especially for those from the B.C. era. Were T.I. not incarcerated for half of their Grand Hustle tenure, the question lingers about the potential for follow-up improvement. Nevertheless, the album retains nostalgia value and places Ball & G among a select number of 20-year veterans that are able to stay remotely close to relevant.