Saturday mornings have become a ritualistic event for me. I rise about 9 a.m., brew some coffee and hop on the phone with my best friend and fellow hip-hop connoisseur, Johnny B in Albany, New York. We spend hours debating everything from sports to politics, but usually our conversations revolve around the current state of hip-hop. So recently when I told him I was reviewing Black Rob’s Life Story we began to discuss the downfall of Bad Boy Records, and it was decided that Bad Boy front man, Sean “Puffy” Combs should be incarcerated. Not for the recent gun scandal—that’s a whole different discussion—but because he’s been committing larceny for years, robbing the true fans of quality hip-hop by flooding the market with perpetually deficient music. It’s been Puffy’s motto from day one that it’s “All about the Benjamin’s.”
Black Rob’s Life Story is what this reviewer considers a feeble attempt by Puffy as well as Bad Boy Records to recapture those hardcore fans that were mesmerized by Notorious B.I.G.‘s 1994 classic Ready to Die—arguably one of the greatest albums of all time. Life Story has the consummate Puffy formula: radio friendly songs meant to entice fans into buying the album, braggadocio tales of guns and drugs, cheesy hooks and stolen samples. I feel sorry for Black Rob, whose skills on the mic are decent, and it would be interesting to see what Black Rob could do with a producer who isn’t caught up with the idea of “just making money”.
The album is further devalued by Puffy’s persistent attempt to shine on the microphone when in fact his lyrical skills are a facade. Though Rob’s skills on the mic are chaste, he never gets a chance to carry the album. Bad Boy Records entourage of sub par artists (Lil’ Kim, Mase, The Lox, etc.) can be found on all but two of the 15 tracks pilfering critical microphone time. For example, Rob’s flow is interrupted on “Down the Line Joint” by a slew of guest artists. This happens numerous times throughout the album, leaving the listener wondering if this is a solo effort by Black Rob or a Bad Boy compilation. One can only assume that this is Puffy’s attempt to lend validity to an unknown artist’s first album. Even Puffy’s girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez, drops by for a cameo laying down a god-awful hook from Madonna’s song “Like a Prayer.”
From a true hip-hop fans perspective the most agitating track on the album is “Thug Story.” Puffy proceeds to rip off the entire beat to Slick Rick’s classic “Children’s Story.” This reviewer has no qualms about an artist remaking a classic, if done out of respect—such as Snoop Doggs’ version of “La Di Da Di.” However, Puffy impairs this classic by not giving credit where it’s due. The CD insert giving the credits for “Thug Story” read as follows: “Contains excerpts of Children’s World and Contains samples of Children’s World as recorded and performed by Rick Walters (Slick Rick).” If Puffy is going to blatantly steal a song he should at least get the song title right.
With too many guest appearances and too many interludes, Life Story leaves the listener wondering what kind of lyrical skills Black Rob really has. The album can be found in the Billboard Top 50, and offers plenty of radio friendly pop material. If this is what you’re searching for, then album is a sure bet. If you’re looking for originality and creativity, spend your hard-earned money elsewhere.