It’s been ten years since Method Man and Redman put out their first full-length collaboration, Blackout!. For a while, they were on quite a roll together, having made a movie and accompanying soundtrack in 2001, then having moved onto their own short-lived sitcom. In the time elapsed, however, they never quite found the time to put together a proper follow-up to their first disc. Method Man was otherwise occupied with the Wu Tang reunion and Redman with various film projects. Up until last year’s release of a single track — a cover of Smoothe Da Hustler and Trigger Tha Gambler’s “Broken Language” — the only high-profile place you could really hear (or see) Meth and Red together was in the Def Jam: Fight For New York video game, in high-def polygonal format. Barring the occasional appearance together on other artists’ albums as a tandem, no follow-up body of work to Blackout! with Method and Red collaborating extensively together had been recorded.
It wasn’t like the duo had a falling out. Clifford “Method Man” Smith and Reggie “Redman” Noble have known each other since they were kids and have stayed friends for decades. Theirs is a rare sort of camaraderie in the world of hip hop: Friends who stay friends. Usually, some sort of squabble is responsible for a rift, which, in turn results in a cease and desist on any further collaborative efforts. Not so with Method and Red. Simply, they were just too busy with individual projects to put their heads together for a full-length album of material.
It’s hard to follow up a classic, much less ten years later. Where do you begin?
In many ways, Blackout! 2 is a logical progression of its predecessor. It’s loaded with clever lyrical twists and unexpected samples subtly woven into the fabric of many of the songs’ instrumentation. Not without its flaws, however, the disc also succumbs to a few of the clichéd pratfalls currently plaguing hip hop as a genre.
While the very first Blackout! had a smaller crew of producers to its credit, Blackout! 2 has a different producer on nearly every song. Having too many cooks in the kitchen works against the album. There’s too much variety on Blackout! 2. Although Method Man and Redman work well together and are clearly having a great time collaborating with each other, Blackout! 2 doesn’t pack quite the same punch as the first installment, diluted as more of a collection of artists and producers rather than just a strictly Method and Red outing.
Not that the Blackout! of 1999 was without its share of star power. Blackout! 2 shares a common thread with guest appearances and production by longtime friends like Redman’s fellow Def Squad alumni, Keith Murray and Eric Sermon.
Amid the gaggle of guest artists and producers, familiar voices from Method and Red’s circle appear. Wu-Tang’s Raekwon and Ghostface Killah show up on “Four Minutes to Lockdown”. It’s no coincidence that the track feels very Wu-Tang in composition, although it was produced by Bink!, best known for his work with Jay-Z.
Once-and-again collaborator Rockwilder (who produced 1999’s Blackout hit “Da Rockwilder”) helps Method and Red up the ante with the outstanding “Hey Zulu”, as jungle screams rip through Method and Red’s shared vocal duties and rapid-fire exchanges against catchy, clap-track beats.
While they take a very contemporary approach to their follow-up, Method and Red don’t need to employ the sound that everyone else on the scene is currently favoring (i.e., slow groove beats). A few songs (“A Lil’ Bit” and “I’m Dope Nigga”, simultaneously throwing out nice nods to Dre and Snoop, respectively) zero in on this trend, leaving much to be desired. It’s a lazy sort of sound that seems woefully out of place in the duo’s normally zingy repertoire. Sure, nearly every rapper going today has one hand on the mic and the other grabbing a fistful of Prozac as some heavy-lidded producer sluggishly mixes narcoleptic beats on a console. Granted, there are only a few songs utilizing the slow-flow technique, but it seems just plain wrong that Meth and Red pandered to this awful fad.
All griping aside with the dynamic duo flirting with contemporary rubbish and following the pack, it’s just for a few songs. Method and Red wisely switch things up with a number of expertly produced songs cultivating a variety of styles and throwing them into the mix.
No other word describes “Errybody Scream” but “awesome”. Switching up their pacing, things go from ass-clapping fast before the chorus crawls across the track at a snail’s pace. Keith Murray guests on the track, adding to the different styles blended to pull the piece together.
While “Errybody Scream” sees the duo pulling off something new that works for them, “City Lights” is just what the “Doc” ordered with the pop-culture savvy flow fans expect from Method and Red. Without missing a beat, it follows the logical progression of what made the very first Blackout! so epic. Not too fast, and not too slow, it’s raw, yet refined; catchy while spilling over with smart, reference-laden lyrics: “Some dudes is more like Kobe / I’m more like Rudy Ray / You either in it pimping / Or you just in the way”.
“A-Yo”, featuring Saukrates as a guest artist, heralds back even more so to Method and Red’s roots. Laced with a subtle Caribbean flair, “A-Yo” stands as a shining exhibit of everything the twosome stands for: unexpected samples, clever lyrics laced with pop-culture innuendo (“With my giant Hancock / I’ll get the check”), and of course, blazing up.
Method Man and Redman don’t recapture the “lightning in a bottle” factor of the very first Blackout!; however, they do give their patiently waiting fans a solid disc of party anthems. Barring one or two missteps, ultimately, the two friends stay true to themselves and their sound — an equally rare thing in the music industry, particularly when it concerns legends and longevity.