[28 July 2006]
The grand tradition of indie rap success founded in the trunks of Bay Area pioneers like Too $hort and E-40 has taken over, and rappers whose independent albums sold enough to buy them a dozen Benz’s dominate today’s rap world. Platinum-selling artists like Young Jeezy and Paul Wall rose to prominence on both skill and self-promotion, moving units hand-to-hand in numbers most emcees on major labels couldn’t touch, and in the process making ten times as much as their major label counterparts. Yes, hustle is as important as, well, flow for aspiring rappers today. But Jeezy, 40 and Paul all earn their checks with music that seems to question when the paper will stack, not if. To understand the true strength of the grind, listen to The Purple Album, then think about how the same dudes sold over forty thousand copies of their last effort, Road to the Riches: The Best of the Purple City Mixtapes. For rappers this bad to sell that much, somebody had to work their ass off.
On paper, the crew (consisting of Sheist Bubz “The Emperor”, Agallah “The Don Bishop” and Un Kasa, as well as several lesser members) has a lot going for it. The Harlem natives are affiliated with fellow Harlem-ites The Diplomats, and Dipset Capo Jim Jones serves as executive producer and spits on three tracks. Agallah has been in the rap game forever, running with Onyx in the mid-90’s and providing Guru, Das EFX and others with beats. Un Kasa is a New York mixtape staple. Sheist Bubz’ pedigree is less impressive, but his rapping is passable and his networking prowess got Purple City their Dipset ties and a deal with the heavyweight underground label Babygrande. The deal did not come out of nowhere; Purple City’s steady stream of bizarrely-themed mixtapes (NASCAR? Candyland?) move enough units to justify any smart label’s attention. Their music, at least on The Purple Album, would struggle to hold anyone’s attention.
Listening to The Purple Album is much like eating lackluster exotic fruit; every bite tastes familiar, but the actual fruit fails to leave an impression that begs repeating the experience. The verses blend together, sliding ambiguously from one gangster cliche to another, full of entirely unearned confidence. Un Kasa’s touch-of-Jadakiss flow renders him tolerable, while Agallah’s gravely voice and Sheist’s higher-pitched enthusiasm make them inoffensive at best. Jim Jones, a CEO who out-raps half of New York on albums he claims to do in his spare time, absolutely phones it in. One of the few memorable moments on the album is his verse on “Trap Nigga”, the single most blatant Young Jeezy rip-off ever recorded, substituting “WOOOOOOW” for Jeezy’s trademark “YEEEEAAAAAH”. “Bank Roll” stands out only due to contributions by Alabama’s 334 MOBB and New Orleans legend B.G., and would be equally impressive without Sheist Bubz or Un Kasa. Second tier Purple City members barely register. The only good verse from inside Purple City comes on “Harlem to B-More”, where Baltimore’s DK rips the third verse with good quick punchlines (“move dust like ceiling fans”, “more techs, Rasheed Wallace”). A backdrop of soaring synths, Southern hi-hats, and the occasional interestingly-placed sample permeate The Purple Album, generic but above-average production wasted on such tepid rhyming.
Rap seems to move sideways as often it moves forward. A genre with a mercurial definition of quality, “good” and “bad” are arbitrarily applied labels and smart rappers know that causes for criticism often become reasons for praise over time. So-called “violent” lyrics eventually become “real”, and a lack of intricate rhyme schemes eventually becomes a trademark simplicity. For aspiring emcees, any attention can be beneficial. Standing out is the goal, a goal at which Purple City have failed with this album. Even with a purple Rolls Royce on the cover, The Purple Album is bland as hell.
Purple City - Trap Nigga