First, with an auspicious title like What the Game’s Been Missing you’d automatically expect an above-average, if not downright revolutionary album. With the general lack of creativity plaguing mainstream New York hip hop since like, well, The Black Album, I was excited to hear that someone was claiming to have the missing link, that elusive something that could shake things up and get things popping again.

Juelz Santana was introduced to most of the rap world in 2000 when Cam’ron granted him a guest spot on Double Up. Shortly after, he became a Diplomat and made his full-length album debut with From Me to U in 2003. According to Juelz, “This album is different than From Me to U. It’s not a different me, it’s just a different side of me. I feel like From Me To U is a real personal album I was just dealing with a lot of personal feelings, and just talking about that a lot. This album, I feel like it’s still me, but this time I’m having a lot more fun with making the music and just enjoying what I’m doing: being in the studio… the whole opportunity.”

In terms of guest appearances, there’s the rest of the Diplomats i.e. Jim Jones, Hell Rell, and of course Cam’ron. Whatever You Wanna Call It pairs Juelz with Hell Rell on a deeper-level type track about the truth about ghetto life. Both MCs drop nice verses over a piano based melody, but Juelz takes an opportunity to get political, if you wanna call it that:



We need to have a million man march again/
We need to have a million man march up-in/
the white house start a million man argument/
like, Bush why a million men starving then?

Murda Murda features Cam’Ron and discusses the gruesome reality of homicide and drugs in New York over the hook from Damian Marley’sWelcome to Jamrock (up in the streets, they call it Murda!). Santana also brings Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne with him on Make it Work For You, which is basically an “I’ll show you how to do this, son” update on cooking crack, hitting the block, and balling for hustlas from Harlem to Houston. I’ll say this: A more creative collaboration has never been made. All three ride a Develop beat with their totally distinct trademark styles, with arrogance the only thing they have in common. Changes is an R&B track featuring Razah, singing a catchy hook about adjusting to life’s surprises. Similarly, Daddy shows his personal side, reflecting on his parental responsibilities and his purpose on this planet.

Juelz shines on his own though too. I Am Crack features the Harlem rapper setting the record straight on his addictive yet deadly nature over an almost rock-style beat.

I’m so mean and nice with the things I write/
Jesus might say “Jesus Christ.

Kid Is Back is one of the few low-points on the album, with children singing a warped version of the 1960’s girl group The Angels’My Boyfriend’s Back. It’s good and horrible. But he more than makes up for it with the highly celebrated Mic Check, (for which he personally financed and directed the video) and There it Go (The Whistle Song), both club staples this year. And oh yes, I almost forgot Oh Yes which features a great little sample of MoTown classic Please Mr. Postman.

Juelz Santana clearly has some of “What The Game’s Been Missing.” His sophomore album is more mature and way more focused. On this disc he spits a lot fewer meaningless bars in favor of thoughts and ideas. This album shows that dude is talented; that he’s more than catch phrases and clichés. Plus we finally we get to see him come out from behind the Dipset banner and assert his own identity, perspective and ideas. And it bangs.