Veteran Southern rap groups are hard to find these days. As unlikely as it may sound—after all, crews are a dime a dozen, right?—the numbers and reputations speak for themselves. Lil Wayne’s Squad Up clique dissipated as his Young Money label grew into an empire, USDA hasn’t dropped a follow-up to their debut since their leader Jeezy has descended from prominence, and Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group gathered artists from around the country. On the other hand, Houston’s Boss Hogg Outlawz—Slim Thug, J Dawg, Dre Day, Lil Ray, Mug, Black & Les—fit the bill. Thugga himself continued to utilize production, mixing and guest appearances from the likes of heavyweights like Mr. Lee, Mike Dean and B.o.B even after leaving Interscope, while his crew stayed busy with their Serve & Collect series and outside projects with the likes of Mick Boogie. As a precursor to S&C3, Outlaw Wayz: The Album Before The Album shows why their spot as one of the best groups below the Mason Dixon Line is well-deserved.
Boss Hogg Outlawz don’t offer much in the area of originality, but their execution remains high from beginning to end. Unlike top-heavy ensembles like the 2Pac-lead Outlawz or Nelly’s St. Lunatics, Slim Thug’s crew of bandits more than hold their own when their leader passes them the mic. Track titles like “Get High,” “Gangsta” and “Turn My Knock Up” tell listeners exactly what to expect, and a cohesive collection of soulful, Houston-bred trunk rattlers maintain the pace. Meanwhile, each member supplies focused topical rhymes, form-fitting flows and hearty mic presence, earning high marks throughout. Southern rap fans will rejoice, but even rapper racists—as Lil Wayne referred to them on Tha Carter III—may find themselves guiltily nodding their heads.
At other points in Outlaw Wayz, Slim Thug and co. offer conceptual, introspective songs that add depth to an otherwise formulaic outing. “Skin” and the disc-ending “Remain a G” both see the Houston emcees fighting through familial and financial woes, and pleading forgiveness for the reprehensible things they’ve dealt with. “Seeing niggas ball out, and yeah I feel envious/’cause everyone is getting blessed, it’s like someone’s forgetting us,” one of the members laments on the later track, which features a haunting vocal sample that asks for sins to be washed away. “Over” utilizes a Cher sample for the Boss Hogg Outlawz to exorcise negative women from their lives. Songs like these help add balance and replay value to the album, but a 18-song play length gets monotonous at times. With their sampled hooks and paper-stacking themes, “Big Bucks” and “Swimming In Money” don’t offer anything different from each other. Outlaw Wayz would benefit from some cardio to trim the fat.
If predictability and lengthiness can be set aside, Boss Hogg Outlawz’ “album before the album” is an enjoyable listen for loyalists of the hardnosed Houston sound that their fans love them for.