Birth of a Prince

Artist: RZATitle: Birth of a PrinceRating: 2 StarsReviewed by: Jason Newman

The good thing about RZA is that he’s one of the few producers today willing to take chances and make the effort, amidst a sea of mediocrity around him, to change and add to the hip-hop genre. The flipside is that when people like this fall, as RZA mostly does on Birth of a Prince, they fall hard.

Birth tries to be the perfect medium between the techno-rap of RZA’s alter ego Bobby Digital, the smooth, soul-based beats of classic Wu-Tang and an unusually large dose of bouncy, ready-for-the-club music. Unfortunately, so little of it is memorable, it makes you long for the days when it was all so simple.

Not that the album is without its hot moments, but listening to most beats and verses alike makes you question if RZA is serious or pulling a Prince Paul-type mocking of the industry. He’ll never be confused with a Native Tongue, but am I really reading this chorus to "Fast Cars” right?

“We be ridin’ fast cars/Weed all in the glass jar/Chrome all on my crash bar/Glocks all in my stash bar."

Many of hip-hop’s finest can be faulted for lack of solid choruses, but most of them on Birth sound amateurish and even bordering on parody. I know I just gave an example, but another one needs to be shared to prove my point. You could probably throw a dartboard at the list of songs and get a good case, but let's go with "The Whistle": “We smoke those blunts the size of bats/We got those gats as long as ax/We snatch that cheese right off the trap/We put those bees all on your map.”

It’s not that thug rap is dead, but it’s not the change many people would think, or like to hear, from the Ruler Zig Zag Zig Allah. Which makes hearing fantastic songs like “The Birth (Broken Hearts)" that much harder to listen to. Over a slow, synth & strings beat and soul vocal sample, RZA plays the role of social crusader/observer, rhyming “They use you as a fool to deceive your own people/And fillin’ my children’s head with pins and needles/But I’ll take out the pins you inserted/And I’ll avenge all my mothers that you murdered." The psychedelic-sounding (both in title and music) “A Day to God is 1,000 Years” also sees RZA showing his deft musicianship, creatively and effectively using the flute as a main instrument in one of the standout tracks. These moments, though, are too often overshadowed by beats that are, regardless of style, lackluster.

Overall, if your friend cops this album, have them throw a couple of songs on a mix and move on.