[7 January 2008]
Although his name doesn’t instantly spring to mind as one of the most notable performers to come out of the turbulent West Coast rap scene, Mack 10 still qualifies as legend enough to merit his own greatest hits album, Foe Life: The Best of Mack 10. As the artist responsible for having put his hometown of Inglewood on the map, standing along with Compton, Long Beach, and other sectors of the California hip hop community, this greatest hits package finally gives the underrated rapper his due.
Not as high-profile as Snoop, Dre, Ice T, or Tupac, Dedrick Rolison—a.k.a. Mack 10—possessed enough street cred to place him in the illustrious company of the Westside Connection comprised of himself, Ice Cube, and W.C. (of W.C. and Tha Madd Circle fame). The trio was put together shortly after the deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. in an attempt to bridge the gap between rival gangs, the Bloods and the Crips. Both Mack 10 and W.C. were members of these rival gangs with Mack 10 standing as a representative for the Bloods and W.C. for the Crips. Unfortunately, no tracks from his tenure with the Westside Connection are included on Foe Life, however, a collection of the trio’s greatest hits was released on the same day as Mack 10’s best-of, on The Best Of: The Gangsta/The Killa/The Dope Dealer.
A solid offering, Foe Life spans ten years in Mack 10’s career. Beginning in 1995, during the period that hip-hop broke through to mainstream, middle-class America with the genre firmly entrenched on radio and MTV rotation, the disc stretches to include material up to and including 2005’s Hustla’s Handbook.
The beauty of making this a best-of disc as opposed to a greatest hits compilation is that Foe Life offers more of a well-rounded view of Mack 10 as an artist than just any radio or critical hits. He pulls no punches and makes no false pretenses, particularly on “The Letter”, an unrestrained bitch-slap to cloistered critics of the misunderstood gansta rap genre. While the title track and “Hoo Bangin’” are definitive mission statements, “Hustle Game” is a nod to the next generation with Mack 10 in an unconventional role as a “big brother” figure.
As per any hip-hop best-of collection, several noteworthy songs structured around samples play an important role. “Hate In Yo’ Eyes”, from 2001’s Bang or Bail, is built around an innovative remix and revamping of the Bee Gees’ classic, “Stayin’ Alive”. Not content to merely lift a direct sample from another artist’s previously released hit, Mack 10 and producer Dr. Dre reworked the Saturday Night Fever anthem with a West Coast rap twist. While the original song’s melody and thumping bassline is employed—particularly on the instantly recognizable chorus—“Hate In Yo’ Eyes” updates ‘70s disco with the distinctive, blurry, processed synth punctuating beats of the distinctive ‘90s West Coast rap sound.
This is a much better re-interpretation of sampling a song as opposed to the interpolation of Rick James’ “Mary Jane” on 1995’s “On Them Thangs”. “Hate In Yo’ Eyes” is a much more sophisticated clinic in sampling and reworking a pre-existing piece with the original song’s theme, bridging the gap between the old and the new track resulting from it. Conversely, “On Them Thangs”, while undeniably catchy, borrows too heavily from the Rick James original and too closely identified with its source rather than as an entirely new work of art with a dash of the familiar.
Reminiscent of Run D.M.C.‘s “My Adidas”, Mack 10 offers its 21st century counterpart, “My Chucks”. An ode to Converse All-Stars, on the 2005 track, Mack 10 capitalizes on the classic sneaker’s resurgence in popularity. Unlike Run D.M.C..‘s light-hearted tribute to their tennis shoe of choice, Mack 10 comes across hard on “My Chucks,” throwing out a clear-cut vibe of gangsta swagger. Underscoring the role of fashion in hip-hop from its early days up to the present, Mack 10 lauds Chuck Taylors over Timberland boots, extolling the simple elegance of “creased khakis, fat laces, and Converse”.
The downside to this career retrospective is that it doesn’t offer anything new. Usually, most greatest hits albums throw in at least one or two new tracks, or some remixed and remastered classics. Not this time. While the lack of new material is a something of a downer, the disappointment is remedied by the fact that Foe Life: The Best of Mack 10 is a genuine timepiece used to chronicle the artist’s stylistic evolution, giving the authentic, unaltered flavor of the originals. With that said, Mack 10’s career hasn’t really evolved very much over time. Still favoring the signature sound of mid-‘90s West Coast rap without adapting in the same way as his better-known contemporaries have evolved their sound, Mack 10’s style is as much a holdover from 1995 as a barbed-wire or tribal armband tattoo.
All things considered, Mack 10’s music still holds up well, over a decade later or even a few years later. In spite of drenching itself heavily in old-school West Coast style, Mack 10 wears it well and much like his favorite pair of Chuck Taylors, some things always remain classics.
While newer fans of Mack 10 get a nice starter kit to the artist’s catalogue, longtime listeners won’t get anything new out of Foe Life. This best-of compilation collects some of his strongest songs and offers a head-bobbing mix of some old favorites.