DJ Khaled has a couple of guest artists on his sophomore full-length LP. Not that many, just T.I., Akon, Lil’ Wayne, Young Jeezy, Julez Santana, Fat Joe, T-Pain, Trick Daddy, Beanie Sigel, the Game, Jadakiss, Bun B, Trina, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Ja Rule, Rick Ross, and a couple dozen more. It’s a literal “who’s who” of modern-day club-rap (assuming that “who” doesn’t include anyone affiliated with G-Unit), and serves as one-stop shopping for people looking for a quick rap fix. We the Best is like the rap version of Stephen Soderberg’s Ocean’s Eleven in terms of star power, but from a quality front, it’s as disappointing as Ocean’s Twelve.
Admittedly, Khaled — best known for his countless underground mix-tapes — knows a thing or two about structure. There’s only a brief Ross-assisted intro, a short interlude, and then We the Best launches into ten straight club-bangers without taking a single break. The whole set comes in at a concise 51 minutes, though it’s more realistically like 45 minutes once you remove all of Khaled’s shout-outs. Yet, once everyone’s been formally introduced (and shouted out to), we get lead single “We Takin’ Over”, a stunning, epic club track. Riding an epic choir-synth beat, Akon, Ross, Birdman, and Khaled all boast about being best (I’m sensing a theme here), but the most memorable verses are — unsurprisingly — delivered by some of the best rappers working right now: Lil’ Wayne and T.I. Though nothing here can be qualified as “important” rap, it’s obvious that everyone is having a fun time just showing off. Case in point? T.I.’s effortless turn on the mic:
I’m the man out in Dallas, better ask Khal-eed
Kept me out in Cali with my eyes open bare-ly
Blowin’ and spinnin’, goin’ down Bennett
Drop six-fo’, three-wheel then switch it
Red light stop, make it drop for the bitches
Got a glock fo’-fifth, blow your head off wit it
It’s absolutely ridiculous, but with a song this good, it’s hard to care about the details. It’s just unfortunate that it’s all downhill after this.
Sigel, rap’s perpetual benchwarmer, wastes Khaled’s excellent piano-drama beat on “Before the Solution” to spit ego-stroking verses that will be dated by the time you finish reading this review:
Jay really not visit there? Dame and Beans are they tight as it seems
Or is it all fabricated from dat same fabric
Now rip the rock marriage straight from seams
Thing’s ain’t what it seems but at time do tell, the truth shall prevail
Until then, you dudes bite y’all nails in anticipation (fuck)
I know you hate it why I got chu waitin’? (Shiiit)
I too, am waitin’
As is the case with most of Sigel’s career, this verse might’ve worked if we cared (hint: we don’t). Yet, he still manages to outshine the most embarrassing track on the whole album: the hilariously-titled “B**** I’m From Dade County”. That’s right — it’s a whole song about representing … um, Dade County, Florida. The Slip-N-Slide crew stops by, and never have they sounded so sedated. Trina, in particular, is often regarded rap’s dirty bad girl (hint: listen to her excellent single “The Baddest B****”), but here she is relegated to boasting of the non-playful type: just line after line of empty verse peddling. It’s one of many wasted opportunities on this album, and this makes for some painfully uninteresting rap music.
Closing number “New York” seems like it should be an East Coast rally-cry, with the claims of “New York is back!” throughout the chorus. Again, we could care less. Ja Rule and Fat Joe both sound weak and tired over a synth beat that’s even more worn out than they are (and for good reason — this appeared off of Rule’s less-than-stellar comeback LP R.U.L.E., making it’s inclusion here nothing short of inexplicable). Ja Rule says he’s just slipped off a couple of years and is now fully recharged when — in fact — his career was completely dismantled by 50 Cent in more-than-public battle (an issue he’s rapped about over a full two albums now). If Rule keeps dropping verses like this, then how are we ever to take him seriously again? He did always sound more comfortable spitting over Stevie Wonder samples.
Yet, if there’s any saving grace to the latter half of We the Best, it’s Lil’ Wayne, a rapper who can be brilliant even when he’s tired (particularly on “‘S’ On My Chest”: “Yep, Cash Money, Cash Money monsta boys / Mafia bitch, even cops a boy / When you say you want beef, then I got ya boy / I’ll just let the Big Mac whop ya, boy“). He drops by on two other tracks, and is easily the highlight of both. Plus, he makes more of an overall impact than Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony do on “The Originators”, where they triumphantly state that they’ve got “half of this industry swingin’ from my balls”. Poetry, ladies and gentlemen. Poetry.
Throughout We the Best we often lose sight of what rap mix-tapes are about: being a copyright-free playground for rappers to steal beats, make boasts, preview the hit singles of tomorrow and — ultimately — to let loose. Going above-ground with a mix-tape is even tougher, and only a few artists have only been able to pull it off successfully (last year’s Re-Up by the Shady Records collective proved surprisingly thrilling). Khaled certainly has got the connections, and show-stopping songs like “We Takin’ Over” prove he’s capable for a long career. Yet if he continues re-releasing b-list Ja Rule tracks and inviting lazy, has-been rappers to his party, then the whole affair will seem less VIP and far more self-indulgent and (even worse) far more self-congratulatory. Guess which one is more fun to listen in on.