The ominous commercial forces who backed this unfortunate album must have invested serious coin getting the first five albums by Shad “Lamborghini” Moss to reach gold and platinum figures. Even a casual listening to New Jack City II reveals a laundry list of problems, from the glossy, uninspired, cookie-cutter beats to Bow “Lil’” Wow’s unoriginal flow (so much like a mix between a certain St. Louis thug and a hustler from Atlanta his next album might be called T.I. II by Lil’ Nelly). And this comes from an artist who should be entering his prime. Whilw it is remarkable he has managed to maintain the support of a Big Four label for this long, Bow “Lil’” Wow’s latest serves as a precise reason the industry is tanking.
This kind of album is a money pit. While Jermaine Dupri’s plastic bass, autotuned hooks (not helped by the appearance of T-Pain and Drumma Boy), preset-synth sounds and the obvious use of label-owned samples culminate in some of the most pedestrian rap instrumentals ever produced, the studio time he bills out for costs ten times that of an Anticon or Rhymesayers album. Yet the difference in pure-sound quality between this and almost any indie hop-hop release is negligible. Then, since Bow “Lil’” Wow has so few dedicated long-term fans, the label has to spend millions on promotion. They have to pay to get its singles on mainstream-radio playlists, buy editorial space at Pitchfork or Rolling Stone, fund contest giveaways, get store posters up, organize product placement, etcetera. While an independent label can break even on album sales as low as a few thousand, a major can barely turn a profit on a gold record.
The problem is majors do not spend money appropriately (as in, relative to talent and durability), and then they blame and sue downloaders for lack of sales. In reality, if the products they produce were worth buying, people would buy them, but the buying public is not stupid. We know anyone with an MPC and a few hours practice could make all of Dupri’s beats (minus his label-owned samples), and every crackhead we have ever been begged by had far more interesting things to say than Bow “Lil’” Wow, a sheltered man-child from suburbia. The industry is a dinosaur, though, so it is what it is until the RIAA finally folds. We might as well get used to seeing Bow Wow lick the plate clean while unsold copies of his entire catalogue fill pawnshop bins for the next 50 years. Woof.
In the Nitti-produced T.I. parody “Get Paper”, Bow “Lil’” Wow says he “must be doin’ good, got e’r'body hating.” That is a half-truth: No original ideas can be found on his sixth-studio album or, as you would at least hope for, fresh approaches to old ones. The only difference between New Jack City II and his 2000 debut is this one has a parental-advisory sticker. Otherwise, the lyrics appear pretty much the same. Of course, since Shad Moss is 22, he now understands what he is saying and not just regurgitating what his marketing team wrote for him as a kid. And yet little difference can be detected lyrically or in terms of production between “Puppy Love” and “Pole in My Basement”.
Even ignoring the bog-standard vocal treatment, Dupri’s production hasn’t aged a day since he first started hanging out at the rap Thanksgiving kid’s table over a decade ago (he did discover Kris Kross, after all). You know a grown man doesn’t start producing albums for 13-year olds unless he is not allowed to eat with the grownups. He’s into that whole ancient Greek man-boy mentorship deal—or the kid happens to be Mozart. Certainly, Shad Moss will never be confused with Mozart. Really, it’s long overdue Jermaine Dupri finally gave up on the whole “JD” thing. Hearing Shad call Jermaine Dupri by his initials throughout this banal waste of plastic is a sacrilege to the memory of a true artist, Jay Dee. Dilla never would have used autotune this liberally, mainly because he had ideas outside of the factory patches in his drum machine/sampler.
As one would expect, the only lyrical themes on Bow “Lil’” Wow’s sixth album are objects (girls, shiny things), drinking, boasting and how much he loves his mentor. He’s got nothing to say that hasn’t been said a billion times over, more than likely stemming from the fact he has no authentic real-life experience. He has lived in a bottle-fed, ball-cupping bubble since he had a single-digit age. Yet he named this album New Jack City II because he sees himself and Dupri akin to Nino Brown and Gee Money of the high-grossing independent-crime thriller. The problem: Shad is not from the streets of New York like the gangsters in the film. He hails from Ohio, and, thus, he’s more Drew Carey than Wesley Snipes.
From his first appearance in Doggystyle onward, Bow Wow served as a marketing gimmick enlisted to tap into a younger demographic, just like Vanilla Ice was created to get whitey into hip-hop. Now that Moss is old enough to drink, his time has passed. He is due to be lead out to pasture, like Kris Kross and Tiffany before him, lest he become the next Britney Spears. Most of his numbers are cooked up through dubious inventory-shifting practices (Kiss famously sent five million quantities of their same-day solo albums to record stores in 1978, just to say they shipped platinum, while the stores quickly returned gold). The rest are provided by his fickle fan base, which consists entirely of people the same age as him or younger with no concept of history or music outside of MTV and Rolling Stone. They are not dependable enough to support a lengthy career for a momentary fad. So, until Sony cuts its losses and drops Shad Moss and his Céline Dion/René Angélil-like pederast mentor, sit back and watch the paper fly.
To be fair, several interviews with Mr. Moss indicate he is an alright guy—a reasonably normal dude, considering he experienced puberty in the spotlight—who tries to make a buck doing what he likes to do. That’s the dream for all of us, isn’t it? However, New Jack City II, at best an aged gimmick, will test listener’s patience. From its name to its content, New Jack City II oozes fakeness. It’s one thing to say you’re a badass pussy magnet, it’s another ballgame to actually be that, and the difference is easy to spot. As Tuco said in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.” Respect the shooter.
Not to mention, who cares if he is a womanizing friend of friends? Over one million copies of this album will be floating around the world, his other albums shipped. Potentially, millions of people from all walks of life will hear this album, and the best he can come up with is, “Knows what I like, sexes me right / Call me Energizer Bow / I can go all night” in a song called “Big Girls” about big girls. Seriously, Moss … if you exerted more effort on your music, forging it into something more meaningful than a lyrical gangbang, you would not have to bust your ass so hard to sell it. Take a chance and be real for a change. Find the real you and share him with us. You need to up your game.