Only the Strong

Artist: Big NoydTitle: Only the StrongRating: 2 StarsReviewed by: Mo DownesBig Noyd is a victim of heavy anticipation. To begin with, he’s a Queensbridge emcee, so right off the bat you expect that little bit more from him. Coming from one of hip hop's founding neighborhoods, he instantly carries the weight of tradition but he must show his pedigree as more than just another gangsta MC. And then there's the company he keeps, namely Mobb Deep. The duo that came to define late 90's street reality hip-hop needs little introduction, except to say that their legendary '95 album The Infamous prominently featured Big Noyd.

His earlier life of the streets, of crime and struggle caught up to Noyd in the form of an attempted murder charge that derailed his chance to put out a major release after 1996’s “Recognize and Realize”. No new album for some time when the man needed time to get his life together. A new album could wait.

From anyone else, Only The Strong is a good enough attempt at a first LP, but again, Big Noyd’s from the same camp as Mobb Deep. Their music has always had a strong sense of dread and remorse that provided no easy answers. Yet Big Noyd's full length debut is little more than a random, flat-sounding mix of cliché gangsta tracks. In this way, it feels like a thousand other street rap albums while enough of his own voice does not come through. The first real two tracks "Watch Out" and "Shoot 'em Up (Bang Bang) Part 1" begin things nicely enough, with strong beats and decent rhymes, but they’re just this side of catchy and it's quickly downhill from ther. Even on these two songs you get the feeling that Big Noyd let the foot off the gas pedal a bit as he doesn’t sound his usual commanding self.

The biggest problem is that Only The Strongdoesn’t make any real attempt to capture the audience. “We Gangsta”, for example, could’ve come from anybody with its lazy gun talk. Big Noyd doesn’t really tell a story with this song, it’s just an announcement and the track offers no surprises. “Invincible", features strangely unprofessional R&B vocals which adds up to a distracting chorus “All 4 The Luv Of The Dough” featuring Prodigy hints at what could’ve been with a more introspective, thoughtful approach to Big Noyd’s time in the streets. Every other song seems to the same thing; the crew is hard and gangsta. Ok, but what else do you have for us?

The production doesn’t really save things. Havoc handles roughly half of the production chores, and The Alchemist takes about the other half. Havoc’s contributions “Noyd Holdin’ It Down” and “Invincible” imply that he could use more work in making his beats more dynamic; they sound unfinished and indistinct. The Alchemist never approaches the excellence he’s known for, but “Shoot ‘em Up (Bang Bang) Part 2” does give him the “Album’s Best Cut” award with its chopped up beat and tight sampling work.

Only The Strongis a decent enough album in the end, but not for an emcee of Noyd’s pedigree.