Hot Beats, Self-Doubt
1.0 Pastor Troy might be the most insecure rap artist of our time. This is what makes him interesting, but it’s also what keeps this album from rising above the rest of the field.
1.1 It’s clear from the very beginning that dude feels like he’s in a one-down position. When KRS-One posed like Malcolm X on the cover of BDP’s By All Means Necessary, it was pretty clear that he wanted everyone to think that he was heir to the Truth-Telling Not-Necessarily-Anti-Violence persona. When Troy does it, he doesn’t even have a gun, the colors are all psychedelicized, he’s looking to the sky instead of at the street. It’s an album cover, not a mission statement.
1.2 And the lyrical cues are all strangely defensive. He talks about how he grew his baby dreadlocks “to change my profile”, like he thinks people have been talking about his hair. He complains that people have been calling him “country” and argues against the charge, like that’s a bad thing (check “Be Country” on the Petey Pablo album), and like this diss has been the talk of the industry. He brags about how he’s been in the game for a whole “five years in this shit, before this shit was cool”, like five years is some kind of eternity, like his previous two albums are seared into the consciousness of America.
1.3 But they’re not, and that’s probably why he’s working so hard to convince us of his realness. In the past five years, there HAS been a huge uptick for Atlanta, which can now—thanks to crunk and OutKast—be considered more important than Los Angeles, maybe even more important right now than New York. It’s gotta be a bit disturbing to Pastor Troy that people are going around talking about Lil Jon and Ying Yang Twins and T.I. and Ludacris and not really so much about him. In a fishbowl, you at least want to be one of the fish.
2.0 This album is fine for what it is: crunk rap by the numbers.
2.1.1 Troy’s pretty-good taste in producers makes this a very listenable southern gangsta rap album. DJ Toomp is always a good bet, and two of his three tracks jump right out into the world fully formed: “Ridin’ Big” (a.k.a. “Ridin’ Big Hoes”) pumps up the level of ominous thug bump by layering operatic whoops and ohioplayer screams and basso profundo backing vocals and horn stabs underneath a single string note which functions as a syntho continuo throughout the whole song; “About to Go Down” is slowed-down crunk that manages to sound like its own screwed and chopped version. (I’m not that big a fan of “Crazy”, though.)
2.1.2 We also get some really great work out of Khalifani on the amazingly hard-sounding “Crank Me Up,” which features some truly poisonous lyrics from Troy that would make Bill Cosby take off his sunglasses and catch a heart attack: “Murder she wrote, but hell, I can’t read / Stab the ho, kidnap the bitch[‘s] seed.” Khalifani seems to phone it in, though, on “Boys to Men”, apart from the surreal children-crying backing noise-this fits the generic “we turned gangsters as teenagers because we had no good role models” theme, the boring vocal hook, and Troy’s ho-hum verse, which is beat to hell by Eight Ball’s terrifying and intense guest spot.
2.1.3 Other tracks range from exhausted-sounding Dre-worship (“Nice Change”) to stuff that sounds bored with itself (“F*** Them N**az”) to stuff that works really nicely, like Michael “Kook” Mason’s smoothed-out “Off the Chain” and Troy’s own track for “Atlanta”, which pours more love and care and respect into a song about how much he loves that city than he puts into anything else on the album.
2.2 But “listenable” doesn’t always translate to “great”, and definitely not “fun”. This is the most joyless record out of Atlanta I’ve ever heard—the tracks bump and bounce, but they’re neither infectiously memorable nor interestingly twisted. They kinda sit there, waiting for inspiration that never comes.
3.0 The biggest problem, though, is that Troy spends more time feeling bad for himself than about creating reasons to love him.
3.1 I’ve heard that Pastor Troy is actually a pretty good guy, and his track record includes some stretches (“Universal Soldier” has been described as acid-rock), but he just doesn’t seem to have any ambition here other than to paint the right colors into the right numbers. “Ridin’ Big” has some relatively funny stuff, like when he has a hard time choosing what car to take to what club, but a lot of the rest of it just seems to be marking time, filling in.
3.2 Judging from By Any Means Necessary, the issue seems to be that Troy (who actually calls himself “PT Cruiser” on one track) doesn’t have the extra tool to distinguish himself from the rest of the ATL pack. He’s probably closest to T.I. in subject matter, but can’t touch him for range or poetry or sheer songwriting know-how. Troy isn’t as hilarious as Ludacris, nor as libidinous as Ying Yang, nor as ambitious as Cee-Lo, and just generally seems depressed and bitter.
3.3 If PT feels like everyone’s passed him by, that he’s last on the list of folks to talk about, he needs to change that not by complaining about it, or trying to adapt his style into other people’s genres, but by making his own mark, taking a chance or two, striking out on his own. This record has a couple serviceable jams where he rises to the occasion, but other than that it’s the product of someone who just doesn’t understand his audience’s needs. We WANT the fire, we WANT the fear. He can bring that. But will he?