Time flies, as it’s been almost two decades since day one member of the defunct G-Unit, Tony Yayo, dropped Thoughts Of A Predicate Felon—his sole commercially successful solo album—and almost seven years since his last mixtape.
Now, fresh from a 22-city Canadian tour, the Southside Jamaica Queens native is making a grand reemergence with The Loyal, a new 12-song LP that sees Yayo updating his sound and adapting to new energy.
While it wouldn’t be accurate to describe The Loyal as a true reinvention, he spends most of the project assimilating his flow and style into the prevailing sounds of 2023 Hip Hop to surprisingly strong results.
Whether spitting alongside Detroit’s TyDaG on the West Coast-tinged “Bag Mover” or going verse for verse with Toronto’s Pressa on “Kill Switch”—recalling past non-reciprocated loyalty and backstabbing—he soaks up youthful energy without breaking a sweat; however, he may go a little overboard at points.
Critiquing his subject matter too profoundly would be unfair in a climate where fans praise Pusha T for lyrically skiing through mountains of cocaine. The key is that it has to be done at an elite level; this is a line Yayo skirts many times on The Loyal.
For example, the solo “New Generation Cartel” leans too much into the street savage vibe to an almost cartoonish degree—from drilling and spinning blocks to outrunning the police. Lines like, “Clips, be filling em’, ni**as, be killin’ em'” feel half baked and void of creative nuance. Another example is the latter half of “Kill Switch,” where he again seems to lose steam.
It’s not that Yayo doesn’t hold a level of authenticity that would allow him to talk from this vantage point—his resume speaks for itself. But, at this point in his career, taking a decidedly first-person and present tense, given the culture’s current climate, feels out of step.
It also feels disconnected from stronger songs in the project, like the intro “Get Indicted Hotline,” which seems to subtly poke fun at the new generation of steppas who put their lifestyle on display for opps and law enforcement alike—telling all their business, à la “Rap Snitch Knishes” (word to MF DOOM).
The second record on the project, “Clown You When You Down,” comes off similarly mature, as he laments, “I came a long way from selling dope,” while reaffirming his loyalty, track record and overall solidarity.
The album’s more exciting moments, though, come when Tony embraces some slightly moodier and unique vibes; he slides over the edgy “Line Me OK” and shines with Nems on “Savage Era.” Though, a clear highlight is the Lloyd Banks featured “Rocket Chamber,” a track that oozes that same chemistry that made G-Unit so monstrous throughout their apex.
There is a sense that Tony tried to pack every modern sound in the five boroughs and beyond into one project. It doesn’t break any new ground, but—with a few missteps aside—he manages to create an admirably solid, well-produced project. He feels at home embracing his blessings, pointing out how the game has changed since he and 50 were back in the streets of Southside Jamaica Queens.