The only surefire way to enjoy Lil' O's Da Fat Rat Wit Da Cheeze is to not take a single ounce of it seriously.
For his first album on a major, nationwide label (there was a botched 1997 deal with MCA), Lil' O attempts to be all things to all rap fans -- an equal-opportunity studio gangsta. Fat Rat is shot through with contradictions, mostly supplied by the performer himself. Is he the thug all thugs straight-up envy? A ruthless, bloodthirsty son of a bitch who doesn't have the time or patience to deal with pesky playa-haters or complaining hoochies? ("Y'all broads wanna drink / The bathroom's got a sink," he says on "The Throwdest.") Or is he just a brotha trying to find that silver lining on the hood's dark storm clouds? On such tracks as "Beg, Steal & Borrow" and "I Wonder Why," O shares this positive side, though he never lets us forget he isn't afraid to plug some slugs in a fool's ass.
Like other "Lil'" Houston rappers, O fills up his album with guest spots from various local MCs. O spars with Big Pokey on "Thug Niggaz Pt. 2," a jam with No Limit-style staccato beats. Big Moe takes time out from rapping about syrup to provide some chorus hooks on a few tunes, including "Slow Down," which sounds like O's very own "I Need Love." O actually lifts a line from P. Diddy, asking for "one bad bitch so I could spoil her." Zero, Hawk, ESG and other Screwed Up Click-ians also lend their talents, assuming ride-or-die stances for their road dog O.
Listeners can view Lil' O's schizoid approach to street philosophizing as either highly perplexing or highly entertaining. The latter is better; if you dwell too long on this is-he-glamorizing-or-debunking-gangsta-life thing, you're putting way too much thought into this album. Besides, you may even get a sick kick out of hearing O spew out his pimp rhetoric.
But with Lil' O, even the most do-ragged, screw-loving street urchin has to realize that it's more about the hustle than the struggle. Coming from every bandwidth of the ghetto-rap spectrum, O tries to make himself look all nice and playarific for the out-of-state consumers. He's not fooling his hometown folks, though. We know he's a bullshit artist with a good production team. On one track, he even admits it: "Yeah I'm bad / But I still gotta eat." It's not thug life this dude is rapping about, it's a thug fantasy.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.