The Empire Strikes Back

The once-proud Rap-A-Lot rediscovers its fury with four new releases

With Loved by Few, Hated by Many, Willie D shows that even in his middle age, he still keeps looking over his shoulder. Wrapping his words of militant melancholy around standardized synthesizer-and-drum-machine beats, Willie D doesn't let the fact that he's a respected and revered member of Houston society prevent him from compiling some vicious antiestablishment rants. "If you don't feel me, kill me," he advises on one track, a line that becomes the unofficial motto of the album.

While most of the stuff on Loved by Few is hit-or-miss, Willie D does create unique moments of frustration that are amazing to listen to. The man truly hits his mark on "If I Was White," on which he scoffs at the idea of racial unity since white people are so damn shady. In his usual happy-to-be-pissed manner, he goes off on the sociocultural contradictions white America serves up, from neglecting to give Denzel Washington an Oscar this year ("You think you did something 'cuz you gave one to Cuba") to all-white juries deciding the fate of black men. "Fuck baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet," Willie D says near the end. "If I Was White" presents Willie D at his most gleefully agitated. It makes you wonder why more MCs can't be on the same page.

The common theme that runs through these new releases is that even if audiences are not down with the new, retooled Rap-A-Lot, the company's still gonna be all right. The label has been around for 14 years, and chances are it'll be around when most of these neophyte imprints have became vague memories. Besides, the boys will always have each other. On their new albums, Do or Die, Tela, Scarface and Willie D each mention at least once how much love they have for Prince and the whole Rap-A-Lot gang. At the label, the bonds are stronger than ever, and you can be either down with them or against them.

Tela: The World may be his audition tape for Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella label.
Tela: The World may be his audition tape for Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella label.
Scarface: Putting the hurt on other MCs.
Scarface: Putting the hurt on other MCs.

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