Saturday, April 15, 2006

Ol' Dirty - A Son Unique

I remember where I was when Princess Diana died -- at a Tony Roma's in Palm Springs on family vacation, overhearing others talking about how "she didn't make it" before seeing the breaking news on TV. I remember where I was when Ronald Reagan died -- at my previous pad at 6693 Sabado, preparing to study for upcoming finals until I heard the news, then departed to the store to pick up a blunt to smoke to his memory. I remember where I was when Ol' Dirty Bastard died -- in Anaheim at a reunion show for A Tribe Called Quest, where it was announced over the loud speaker to much disappointment. Is it odd that I equate a rapper with a mile-long criminal record along side an ex-President and British royalty as far as the importance of their memories? More than likely yes, but that's what Ol' Dirty meant to me.

The recent death of rapper Proof and the circumstances that followed resemble that of Ol' Dirty's. When Proof's death first hit the news, the details were scarce, and mourners typically put together their own scenario -- a late night club, some argument, guns come out, Proof gets caught up in it, wrong place wrong time. But since then, new details have come out, stating that Proof had an altercation with a bouncer whom he pistol-whipped and shot, and then a fellow bouncer, actually related to the other bouncer, came to his defense and fired on Proof. The truth to this story is still in the air, but if it does prove to be true, it makes mourning Proof's memory a little difficult. Don't get me wrong, it's still a shame that he's gone, but what right to life does he have if he's willing to take that of another man? And if that other bouncer hadn't been there to fire at Proof, who knows if Proof would've fired more at the first bouncer? Proof wouldn't have been remembered as a gifted MC and integral part of Detroit's hip hop scene; he'd have been a murder suspect with a tarnished reputation and the focus of negative media reports on hip hop for years to come.

When Ol' Dirty's death first hit the news, it was equally shocking and mysterious. Ol' Dirty had pretty much lost all of the weight he had gained in prison, looking to be in good shape and spirits at the Wu-Tang reunion show in San Bernardino I attended in May '04. He was back in the studio recording music, and most importantly, he was sober, not only because of his probation status, but also as a personal choice to get his life back on track. Then, in November '04, he collapsed in a studio and died; initially labeled as "unknown causes", a month later it was ruled as an accidental drug overdose, after a ruptured bag of cocaine was found in Ol' Dirty's stomach. How could someone who would go on to be remembered as a kind, generous soul, deceive so many people by claiming he was drug-free before dying under such circumstances? It seems as if with so many questions that only Ol' Dirty himself could answer, it makes it unreasonable to focus on the negative details of his death and rather focus on the positive details of his life.

The most positive detail of his life, of course, was his music. After being released from prison in '03, Dirty signed with Roc-A-Fella Records, with plans to release his 3rd album, A Son Unique, as the 1st-ever joint venture between the premier record label of the 2000's with hip hop's most beloved empire of the '90s, the Wu-Tang Clan. But just as Roc-A-Fella had added a seasonsed vet to their roster in Ol' Dirty, so too did they add M.O.P., and Noreaga, and Joe Budden. Just as Damon Dash and Jay-Z had troubles trying to juggle release dates amongst these four as well as for albums from Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Freeway, State Property, Kanye West, Cam'ron, Young Gunz, and Jay himself, so too did they have troubles getting along with each other. Last year, after becoming Preisdent of Def Jam, Jay bought Dame out for his stake in Roc-A-Fella, leaving him with the rights to release albums through his "Damon Dash Music Group" (which may or may not still exist) for Beanie Sigel (who released the stellar "The B. Coming" last year), M.O.P. (who have since bounced to G-Unit), Noreaga (who's out doing reggaeton records somewhere), and Ol' Dirty (whose posthumous album still has not been released).

Will A Son Unique ever see the light of day? Not likely, considering that the most recent release date it was given was August 9th... of 2005. However, through my sources, I was able to hear the final recordings of the late Russell Jones.

With 13 tracks on the album, only 2 feature Dirty by himself; whether this was a result of Dirty's ultimely death, Damon Dash's oversight, or Dirty's choice can only be guessed. Chemistry between Dirty and his guests work where you'd expect -- "Back In The Air" f/ Ghostface and "Intoxicated" f/ Raekwon, Method Man and Macy Gray, both produced by the RZA, are the only tracks that have some sort of Wu-Tang influence, and "Operator" f/ The Clipse & Pharrell is a fun record in the same vein as the Neptunes' work on '99's N**** Please. The DJ Premier-produced "Pop Shots" offers one of Primo's best beats of recent years, but one of Dirty's verses from the original version is replaced with a verse from M.O.P.'s Lil' Fame, which doesn't hurt the song but limits one of Dirty's better performances on the album. The opener "Lift Ya Skirt" is catchy, but unfortunately, it was catchy enough to warrant Missy Elliott adding a verse.

Elsewhere, "Work For Me" f/ Young Chris and "How Ya Feelin'" are terrible attempts at club records, and the awkward female vocals in each are obvious reaches to recreate the success of "Got Your Money". Easily the worst song on here, however, is "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" f/ Macy Gray, a remake of a oldie and an embarrassment to anyone and everyone who has performed this song in the past, from Elton John to Burt Bacharach to Aretha Franklin. Ol' Dirty's previous attempts at singing were enjoyable because he was genuinely trying to sing; here, he's resorted to screaming the vocals at the top of his lungs, stretching out notes way longer than necessary. Other tracks focus away from the crazy personality that earned Ol' Dirty his notoreity, and more so on his lyricism, which was never his strong point. On top of that, his production is mostly uninspired, be it the unlistenable "Don't Hurt Me Dirty", or the lackluster RZA beats on "Stomp" and "Skrilla", which I wouldn't believe were produced by the RZA had it not said so on Wikipedia.

Do I feel good bashing the final album of a dead man who I otherwise admired? No, not at all. But it feels good to at least have some closure as to why this album has been delayed so much and has by now likely been shelved forever -- because it's not good, and wouldn't have aided Dirty's legacy at all. It's terrible to admit, but it seems that Dirty's ability to make good music was contingent on him being high, as much of A Son Unique sounds forced. Maybe Dirty himself was starting to realize this, and that's what led to that fateful day in November '04. But, once again, no one will ever truly know.