While most genres of music hold their veteran performers as legends of the highest regards, hip-hop is notorious for doing the opposite. Inherently regarded as a young man’s game even more than its fellow musical types, rappers are constantly viewed with a “What have you done for me lately?” skepticism. Different emcees handle this in different ways: some of them break their backs keeping up with the trends and forget what made them so good in the first place, while others stick to their laurels so much that they fail to remain relevant. Still, others simply diminish in their skill level. Only a few rappers manage to maintain a balance between maintaining their consistent skill level and pairing it with current sensibilities–and even then, it often takes a while to iron the kinks out.
The opening track on AZ‘s latest disc, Undeniable, shows that the lyrical tenacity behind classic songs like “Pieces of a Man” and Nas‘ seminal “Life’s A Bitch” is still accessible to the Brooklyn emcee. Tracks that follow, such as “Superstar,” and “Life On The Line” do the same, as AZ spits more of the multi-syllabic, detailed narratives that have garnered him the legion of fans that have hailed him as the industry’s most underrated emcee for his entire career. The problem is that this is all territory that AZ has covered and retread. The production is B to C-list quality, and while AZ can still rap, he just doesn’t bring anything new to the table to keep listeners engaged: he doesn’t sound as hungry to get heard as he did on “Life’s A Bitch,” and he doesn’t sound as hungry to re-stake his claim as he did on 2005’s “The Come Up.” Undeniable finds AZ on cruise control–and while that’s still better than most of today’s current state of rap music, it’s not enough to make any noise. With the perfection of the album-concluding “The Hardest” featuring Styles P, this is especially disappointing.
When AZ tries to fit in with today’s crowd, the results are mediocre at best. The Ray J-featured “Go Getta” is an unbearable flossing anthem that sees Brandy‘s brother singing both the hook and verses, and AZ catching his contagious wack virus by contributing trite bars of his own over a beat that’s as bland as unseasoned fries. “Dead End” features another unabashedly jiggy backdrop to shameful results. Tracks like “Parking Lot Pimpin” aren’t as bad, but they’re still worthy of a skip.
All in all, AZ‘s Undeniable isn’t a horrible album. It won’t be the career blemish that was former partner-in-rhyme Nas‘ Nastradamus, but it’s still one of the most average, forgettable collections of songs that he’s released in recent memory. And these days, especially for a vet like himself, indifference is much scarier than hate.