[19 December 2006]
Having been pushed back several times from its original early 2005 release date, Styles P’s long-awaited second solo album following 2002’s A Gangster and a Gentleman, finally sees the light of day.
Rumors of the album’s delay had been attributed to Styles P’s affiliation with D-Block, a rival to 50 Cent’s G-Unit faction that had been ascertained as having considerable pull with the Interscope parent label. Varying reports of hearsay circulated that Fitty and his crew possessed enough stroke to keep the long-completed album from hitting the streets and its intended listening audience.
Whether or not a beef with one of Interscope’s top acts was responsible for its numerous delays, Time Is Money is a decent sophomore offering. It still leaves room for improvement, especially considering how long it took to polish and eventually release, regardless of rumor-filled rumblings.
In spite of boasting a superstar production team comprised of Scott Storch, Lil Jon, Alchemist, and Hi-Tek, many of the tracks on Time Is Money fall short of the high-expectations set for them. At least half of the album’s songs contain more than the required number of head-bobbing beats and Styles’ rhymes are very good. However, Time Is Money‘s production and thematic concepts are inconsistent.
Lyrically, Styles P tackles a range of subjects from the banal, self-aggrandizing, gun-toting “gangsta” fare to moving treatises on struggles with poverty, pride, and rising to life’s more important challenges. Listening to some of Styles’ more mature content makes some of the subject matter concerned with smoking weed and petty beefs over whose rhythm outfit is the greatest seem all the more tired and clichéd.
The opening track, “G-Joint”, is a departure from Styles P’s more spartan style of his first album and features an unlikely sampling of Europe’s “The Final Countdown”. The unexpected element of adding a C-list ‘80s arena rock clip packs a surprising punch and elevates the tune above the standard serving of thug posturing.
In terms of production, Lil Jon’s touch is all over “Can You Believe It”, along with guest vocals by Mario Winans. This cut is a prime example of one of Time Is Money‘s major flaws. The album’s guest artists strip, rather than enhance Styles of a signature sound and space in the spotlight, overpowering many of the songs. While Styles’ writing is adept, his rhymes easily get lost in the shuffle of either the under- or over-produced songs or the sea of guest artists. While some of the songs find a happy medium and very few are out-and-out clunkers, the requisite guest-artists seem to run away with the show at several points throughout.
By contrast, “Real Shit”, with the late, great R&B singer Gerald Levert lending a cameo appearance, takes a darker tone musically and lyrically, questioning the status quo and socio-economic status with real style. Levert’s vocals lend a sense of soul and authenticity to the track, adding, rather than subtracting to the final product.
Treading similar, more socially-relevant territory, “I’m Black”, channels James Brown’s classic “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” as a black pride anthem for the 21st century. A controversial choice for a single due to some of its lyrical content, “I’m Black” received little support and promotion from Interscope. Similarly, Styles references such civil rights luminaries as Martin Luther King, Jr.and Malcolm X alongside Tupac and Biggie in “I’m Black” and “Testify”.
It seems almost hypocritical for Styles P to name-drop such influential leaders in the struggle for racial equality while engaging in verbal pissing-contests with fellow rap artists. Given the introspective nature of many of the tracks, the album’s title, Time is Money, is misleading and seems to pander to those looking for a throwback to overly-materialistic rap squads crying about Bentleys, blunts and bitches than concerning themselves with problems of a more universal nature.
In a sense, Styles P cheats himself of true artistic integrity. The content of some of his songs—much like the production—is inconsistent. Styles vacillates between trying to play the role of streetwise thug with hackneyed, stereotypical pursuits before turning around and delivering an honest assessment of life in the ghetto. His observations of why things are the way they are and aspirations of equality and a better standard of living can be trivialized with a two-faced attempt at trying to appease listeners of both camps who want either a modern prophet/poet like Tupac or a good-time hustler in the vein of Diddy.
The current state of rap and hip-hop has moved towards rewarding “he who raps the loudest” and engages in the most public feuding with more push from their labels and conversely, more radio and MTV play.
Considering the landscape, it’s hard to blame Styles for his approach on Time Is Money. Sometimes you want to shake your ass (watch yourself!) and dance and other times you want to ruminate on the ills of the day. Styles P is still young enough to decide on which side of the fence he wants to stand. For now, however, his sophomore solo effort shows promise.