If the past couple of years have taught us anything, it’s that patience really does pay off. Saigon released The Greatest Story Never Told, Duke Nuke Forever saw the light of day, and the world kept spinning after December 21, 2012. Maybe it’s not so impossible to think that Dr. Dre might one day put out Detox. In the meantime, Papoose is the latest to resurrect an album thought to be long dead with 2013’s release of The Nacirema Dream. Let’s take it back to the year 2006. Papoose is making waves on the mixtape scene and has netted himself a deal with Jive rumored to be worth one and a half million dollars. His fans are anticipating his debut album, but due to the label wanting a more commercial sound, the album is faced with delay after delay until virtually everyone has forgotten about it.
It’s mind-boggling to say this, but it’s true. After over seven years of waiting we’re finally getting a chance to listen to the debut album of Papoose. The album is noticeably behind the trends of the hip-hop coming out today, with beats that sound like they were crafted in the mid-2000s. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re a fan of New York rap from that time period and want to hear some production reminiscent of Dipset or G-Unit, this will take you back to those days. It does however make it harder to digest The Nacirema Dream when everything else in hip-hop coming out right now is in the transitional period of growing past this sound.
A glance at the guests featured on The Nacirema Dream will once again have you wondering what year it is. With names like Remy Ma, Jim Jones, and Jadakiss highlighting the collaborations, you have to wonder how long ago these guys recorded their verses for this album. Unless, that is, you expect me to believe Papoose went and dug them up from obscurity because he really thought they could bring something to his debut album. For the most part, these guest appearances really don’t add anything to the listening experience. The guests are nice on the hooks, but Papoose is the main attraction as far as rapping goes.
Papoose didn’t make his name in hip-hop by being a rapper with a gimmick or someone who was carried along by production. His reputation is that he is a lyricist first and foremost. The Nacirema Dream is structured around that strength, with the focus being on the vocal performance. It’s clear that Papoose spent a good amount of time crafting these verses in order to make sure he said what he wanted to say on his debut album. A rapper’s first album is often easily discernible from the efforts that will follow. There is a certain hunger coming from an emcee trying to do everything right the first time, and that energy is difficult to recapture. Papoose attacks the tracks with a vengeance, believing that this is his moment to showcase his talents to the world. The Nacirema Dream contains lyrical displays such as “Aim Shoot” and the closing “Alphabetical Slaughter Part II”, a sequel to the song that helped Papoose get a record deal. Papoose also opens up the storybook, telling street tales with vivid imagery.
The highlight of the album comes on the concept track, “Cure”. Papoose takes this opportunity to tackle the issues of cancer, AIDS/HIV, and drugs. These topics aren’t anything brand new in hip-hop, but it’s always nice to hear a fresh take on real world problems. Papoose raps from the first person perspective of these things, similar to what Nas did on “I Gave You Power” when he rapped from the viewpoint of a gun. The song is elevated by an emotional hook delivered by none other than Erykah Badu. “Cure” is the standout track, but Papoose isn’t afraid to exercise his storytelling abilities on other songs as well. On “Pimpin Won’t Die” Papoose follows in the footsteps of 2Pac and Slick Rick, adding on to the stories of “Brenda’s Got a Baby” and “Children’s Story”. Papoose succeeds at painting a picture of the hardships of the world, particularly the ones he personally faced growing up.
The Nacirema Dream is a prime example of how hip-hop can serve as a platform for storytelling. Papoose confirms that the hype around his lyrical prowess was real. However, the album isn’t without its faults. Coming out seven years behind schedule, the production is noticeably a little dated. While the beats are solid, The Nacirema Dream isn’t an album that you’ll be listening to because you want to hear great production. It also could have benefited from being slightly trimmed. Listeners might feel fatigued while sitting through the 75 minutes that this album has to offer. Regardless, The Nacirema Dream is an admirable achievement. Papoose fought through label issues and made the album that he wanted to make, even if it took him seven years to finally get that album out to the public.