As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.
—Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in Goodfellas, sampled by Slick in “See I’m a G Homie”
The cover of Slick’s debut album Elements of the Game showcases 16 snapshots arranged in four rows and four columns. Presumably, each photo represents an “element”—the money spread across at table, the headphones, the rims on a sweet ride, the graffiti obscured by the parental advisory warning (so that the warning itself becomes an “element”), and even the close-up of a woman’s bosom. There’s one element that’s not pictured or featured in large quantities—skillz on the mic from Slick. But what Slick does have plenty of is enthusiasm.
If you haven’t heard of Slick and his clique The Shock Mob, that’s okay. They’ll remind you of the West Coast’s biggest players, like West Side Connection, 2nd II None, and Too Short. They’ll also hit you with a little Dirty South flavor on songs like “Throw Them Thangz Up” and “Soldiers”.
In case you missed the last 20 years and never listened to rap before, Slick wants to take you on a tour of the ‘Hood. Admittedly, the entire mythos of the ‘Hood has become rather familiar and cliché. But where most rappers are at least ambivalent about the “game”, Slick revels in his ghetto odyssey. Even when he explores death (“If I Die Tonight”), you can almost see him smiling during the hooks. Halfway through Slick’s 19-song opus, I began to have visions of a ghetto theme park—call it “Disneyhood”—complete with all the glorified trappings of thug life: the drunk player haters on the corner talkin’ junk at 7 and 8 o’clock; the gangsters waltzin’ around the club smoking blunts at 9 and 11; the honey standing next to the Escalade in Victoria’s Secret, 12 o’clock.
The image of Slick and his posse of merry thugs is most intense on songs where Slick takes the biggest bites. No, that’s not “bite” as in “being ferocious”. That’s “bite” as in being a copycat or, as Ice Cube called it, “straight jackin’”. Consider, for example, “Somewhere Over the Ghetto”. When I first peeped that title, I was hoping it wasn’t a “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” knock-off. Well, my hopes were in vain. And in this gangster fairytale, Oz is populated by caroling pimps. You really have to hear it to believe it because words can’t describe how hilarious this song is. Same thing goes for the lovey dovey Dr. Dre-styled “Imagine Me & You” (originally sung by The Turtles), the doo-wop of “Sunshine Day” (see also: The Brady Bunch), and Slick’s homage to being broke, “We Po’”. Even with the biting, those tunes work well overall. But the worst of these biter tunes is “Gangsta Ridin’”, which takes Peaches and Herb for a joyride down Sunset Strip. Check this out:
And it feels so good,
When you mob the ‘hood.
There’s one perfect thing,
And homies this one is it,
I love it when we’re grindin’ when we’re
Gangsta ridin’, hey hey”.
Truth is—and as much as my friends will clown me for admitting it—these cuts are kind of catchy, especially “Imagine Me & You” and “We Po’”. You wouldn’t want to be caught bumping some of this in your ride, but you might find your head bobbing if you keep your headphones on.
Where Elements of the Game falls short is with Slick himself. As producer and arranger, he does a fine job, but he’s not as comfortable on the mic. He expends quite a bit of effort in playing the role of the low-ridin’ loot-chasin’ pimp. But when it’s time bring the lyrical heat, he’s too slick for his own good and, more often than not, the excitement in the instrumentals overshadows his delivery. While his voice occasionally sounds like Xzibit, Slick isn’t animated like Xzibit.
So what do you do when you can’t hold your own on the M-I-C? Ideally, you keep your beats crunk and you call in your homies, preferably the ones who can flow. Slick follows that plan to the letter, inviting a guest singer or rapper to perform on almost every song. The result is a Shock Mob production disguised as Slick’s solo debut. The upside is that the “guests” are well placed and usually upstage Slick on his own record. Notable guests include Streetz (“Put Ya Tops Down”), Slick’s son Conspiracy (“Throw Them Thangz Up”), Titus (“Soldiers”), and Sonny Black (not the Sonny Black from the movie Donnie Brasco, though—this guy’s a rapper). Only one song features Slick all by his lonesome, the catchy but much too short “Make ‘Um Say Slick”.
Elements of the Game might have earned an additional brownie point with a streamlined song list. Although Slick manages to rap about a variety of topics, fewer songs would’ve meant less filler. If I had my way, I would veto “Creased Up” (with its repetitive mantra, “I don’t wanna bend the crease in my pants”), “See I’m a G Homie”, “Ain’t Life Somethin’”, “We Hate You”, and “It’s All Mine”.
Bottom line, Slick will make your speakers thump and probably give you a few chuckles along the way. He’s got some of the elements—particularly strong production and creative hooks—but not enough to make a classic.
// Notes from the Road
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