Cam’ron, both as a rapper and as a person, has always been celebrated for his eccentricities: the ruthlessly efficient but wildly complex couplets delivered with disquieting nonchalance; the pink minks and the pink cars; the era-defining vocabulary. Looking back, Cam’s persona seems even more refreshing in hindsight than it did at the time, living as we do now in the era where every third-rate rapper is claiming that someone else is biting their swagger and where it’s more fashionable to claim to be from Mars than the right project.
His career as an album artist peaked with 2005’s Purple Haze. It’s a record that is over an hour long, self-indulgent as hell, and all over the place stylistically, so it’s a testament to Cam’ron as an artist and a personality that it’s a thoroughly compelling album. If it, instead of Crime Pays, were the album being released this year, it could realistically find a home amongst Tha Carter III’s three million fans. Eventually though, Cam’ron’s weirdness got the best of him, and when in the summer of 2006 he handed his slowly dwindling cult the one-two punch of the equally disastrous Killa Season movie and album, it was evident that Cam had devolved into self-parody. (The same can be said for his supporters in the critical community, who resorted to celebrating the song on Killa Season about Irritable Bowel Syndrome.)
On Crime Pays he swings too far in the opposite direction, coming back with an album that is unadventurous and uninteresting. It’s doubly disappointing considering that the songs that trickled out prior to the album’s release pointed to a Cam’ron that might’ve returned to form. Most notable among them is his verse on the remix of OJ Da Juiceman’s “Make Tha Trap Say Aye”, which opened with the epochal lines, “What up Gucci?/ What up Juiceman?/ This Louie belt/ Cost two grand” and only got better from there.
But, in the wake of “Crime Pays”, “Make Tha Trap Say Aye” only painfully illustrates what’s wrong with Cam’ron’s sixth album: that song is alive and colorful, and its undeniable energy seems to breathe life into the usually detached-by-design Cam. Conversely, Crime Pays is almost completely made up of listless, lifeless beats that are tinny and suffocating. They’re needlessly busy, like they’re trying to compete with their notoriously wordy MC. Missing are Purple Haze’s forays into reggae or California G-funk and beats like the ones for “Soap Opera” and “Hey Lady” that were buoyant and soulful. Sonically, Crime Pays provides almost no counterpoint to Cam’ron’s typically bleak ugliness.
The album was produced, with the exception of two songs, by Cam lackeys Skitzo and Araab Muzik, two guys who seem to be striving to replicate the off-kilter histrionics often achieved by Diplomat beatsmiths The Heatmakerz. Instead, they filter out everything that was great about that oppressive chipmunk-soul style and leave us with beats that are flimsy and brittle.
Harping on the producers— and Cam’s beat selection— is necessary, because in many respects Cam’ron has yet to fall off as a rapper. Second single “Get it in Ohio” featured the Cam that can crystallize his knotty rhymes into breathtaking imagery: “White coke, tan dope/ black gun, trey-deuce/ silver bullets, purple piff/ blue pills, grey goose/ Pull out the ratatat/ duck, duck, say ‘goose’/ Beige coupe, suede roofs/ send him off to Jésus.” And on “Cookin’ Up”, another song that leaked early, Cam flaunts his knack for turning mercilessness into comedy: “Sledgehammer, smash his melon/ I’m the black Gallagher.”
But where Cam’ron’s appeal often lies in his long-windedness, it also means that he needs to be more on his game than most, and that simply doesn’t apply across Crime Pays’ s 70 minutes. Too often, Cam’s ramblings come off as inessential; they used to sound like the idle muses of a savant.
The most enduring track from Crime Pays is its initial single, “My Job”. On it, Cam narrates plainly but compellingly from the point of view of a 9-to-5er whose had his soul sucked dry by his cubicle: “I light the sour before I go in the office/ being here eight hours sure will get you nauseous/ Lady across from me, telling me her problems/ I look at her like ‘Yo, how the fuck I’m gonna solve ‘em?’” Its resonance and vividness is striking considering that Cam’s never held anything even resembling a normal day job. Maybe he should try acting again.