I've got a pet theory about rap cliques. Usually, when a young rapper bursts on the scene to massive success, he's got a posse waiting in the wings. Usually this posse is waiting patiently to ride in on the coattails of the first rapper, initially releasing a posse album, and then following that with solo records for all the other members.
50 Cent burst out of the gate last year on the strength of an unbelievable breakthrough single, the ubiquitous "In Da Club". Regardless of the fact that the rest of the album wasn't that great, 50's album sold like hotcakes. Sure enough, Get Rich or Die Trying was released in February, and the inevitable posse album, G-Unit's Beg For Mercy, was on shelves by November. Lloyd Banks released The Hunger For More in June, and Young Buck's debut was just two months after that. There's a fourth member of the posse, Tony Yayo, currently serving time on Ryker's Island for felony gun charges. Assumedly, as soon as he hits the streets his solo debut will follow.
Four releases in, the G-Unit brand seems strong. 50 Cent has approached franchise building with the same single-minded alacrity that he had previously used in the process of becoming one of the most prominent pop stars in the world. You might recall that 50 was discovered by Eminem, and the existence of the G-Unit / Interscope synergy is a direct product of 50's success on Eminem's Shady / Interscope label. Tellingly, Eminem's own posse, the D-12, haven't achieved anywhere near the success of G-Unit. They've dropped two albums that have sold well for posse albums but poor for Eminem discs, and none of the other five members of the D12 have released a single solo album between them. While neither Banks or Young Buck have matched 50's meteoric success, they have successfully established one of the most dependable and consistent brand names in hip-hop. All in all, 50's done pretty well for himself in the last year and a half.
But we're not here to talk about 50 Cent, we're here to discuss Young Buck. It's a hard line to draw, however, because Young Buck's debut is very much of a piece with the albums that have preceded him. This feels less like a debut album from a promising young MC than another sequel in a very familiar franchise. Honestly, I've listened to this album a few times and I don't really think that Young Buck is a great MC. His lyrical skills aren't flashy and his voice isn't particularly distinctive. Straight Outta Ca$hville is the rap equivalent of an expensive glossy fashion magazine. The photographers and designers who use those magazines to spotlight their skills make the models almost irrelevant, and similarly, the slick production and consistent pop hooks on this disc make Buck himself almost an afterthought.
As bad as that may sound, there are some very nice pieces of music here. The album's first single, "Let Me In", is damn catchy, a hood-banger in the tradition of Lloyd Banks' "On Fire". Just as that track was deeply indebted to late-era Dr. Dre (and in particular "In Da Club", the hook that started it all), with a slamming beat over a stuttering handclap, "Let Me In", produced by Needlz, is almost textbook G-Unit: a hard beat that sounds like a car door slamming, popping handclaps, and subtle violin vamps in the background. And just in case you forget who's paying the bills, the funky guitar from "In Da Club" drops in along with 50 himself, who drops his famous "go shorty" couplet towards the end of the song. You can't open a new McDonalds without Ronald to cut the ribbon, now can you?
I like the occasional Big Mac as much as the next person, and that's pretty much Straight Outta Ca$hville's nutritional equivalent. "I'm a Soldier" is a sufficiently ominous track to begin the album, with excellent production by Andre Harris and Vidal Davis, as well as another appearance by Mr. Cent. "Shorty Wanna Ride" is one of a few songs on the album to reflect Buck's Southern pedigree, with crunked-out production by Lil' Jon guaranteed to get the club bumping. "Bang Bang" features a well-utilized Nancy Sinatra sample to spooky effect.
The problem with Big Macs is that as yummy as they are going down, they make you fat and dull your senses. They're a nice treat but if I ate them everyday I wouldn't be very happy. Likewise, if I had to listen to Straight Outta Ca$hville every day, I would get pretty bored pretty fast. There's just not a lot here outside of the simple pleasures of the intimately familiar.