Time Is Money

Artist: Styles PTitle: Time Is MoneyRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Andrew Kameka

Few albums are as aptly or unfortunately titled as Styles P's <i?Time Is Money (Ruff Ryders/Interscope). Four years since the release of his gold-selling solo debut, A Gangster & A Gentleman, Styles has seen much of his shelf-life and earning potential waste away. The Lox member has been hobbled by industry politics, label drama and a prison bid that kept him locked-up while the Ruff Ryders Empire weakened. SP the Ghost is finally ready to make up for missed opportunities and release his sophomore effort, which flaunts the husky and street-savvy lyrics that keep fans clamoring for the D-Block representative.

,br>Adding some hood edge to 80's rock, Styles uses the album lead off "G-Joint" to silence anyone who may have thought he went soft during his hiatus. A rolling synthesizer melody takes a backseat to ferocious raps, a trend followed for "Burn One Down." Neo's dramatic set-up lights a fire under Paniro, who raps, "None of y'all is big/Not to be funny, but none of y'all is B.I.G./Keep talking this 'king' shit, none of y'all can live/Cause I be on the streets where none of y'all is." Now's clearly not a good time to reach for the throne.

Moving away from the dual threat of A Gangster & Gentleman, Styles no longer portrays himself as someone who has only two contrasting personas. He's a multilayered man who can tear down adversaries just as quickly as he can build up his community ("I'm Black") or family ("Leave A Message"). The majestic "This Is How We Live" best illustrates that complex growth. Havoc's enchanting flute melody gets the royal treatment as Styles goes ghostly and raps, "No air in my physical/I don't even dream, I live another life/ When I sleep, it's so deep, I'm a spare you the visual."

SP also shows a bit more gentleman than gangster this go-round, which doesn't always play out well. Back to back attempts at radio love slow the pace of Time Is Money, putting breaks on an already light album. The seemingly phoned-in "Can You Believe It" is plagued by monotone, bland performances. Akon's Bobby Brown-inspired hook and Lil Jon's soulless beat, which sounds strikingly similar to others he's done in the past, do nothing to compliment Styles's low key approach. In fact, they expose P's discomfort for exactly what it is-an unnatural scratch at airplay.

Aside from those stumbles and an ironically self-fulfilling title, Time Is Money is an excellent album. It shows how the passage of time can turn a back-breaking lyricist into a balanced wordsmith capable of running with the industry's best. Styles P sounds sharper, more mature and adept at crafting engaging songs than he ever has. Most of all, he still sounds just as hungry as he did when the Lox first stormed the airwaves. Apparently time doesn't change everything.