Z-Ro (born Joseph McVey) has long had the Southwestern streets on lock. People around here regard the gruff baritone-voiced ex-con and retired crack dealer as a real-ass street poet -- the Southern Tupac or the second coming of Scarface. The Northeast, Midwest and the West Coast are other matters, and every Z-Ro release causes his fans to wonder if this is the one that blows him up nationally.
In the case of Let the Truth Be Told, the answer is probably not. It's not the fault of Z-Ro nor the producers -- it's just that this kind of stuff has been dubbed out of fashion by the knuckleheads who run Big Rap Radio Inc.
Z-Ro's rough and deep voice is the perfect delivery system for his street tales, and he can also sing effectively on the hooks. Most of the best tracks here come from producer Mike Dean, whose flair for both the melodic and the funky shine through on tunes like "Everyday, Samethang," the almost classical-sounding "The Same One" and the jazzy mid-tempo number "Respect My Mind," on which Z-Ro sounds both vulnerable and homicidal at the same time. "I load my AK," he literally croons on the chorus, "Don't think I won't spray / You bitch niggaz gon' lay / you won't catch me runnin'").
Other highlights include the album opener, "Mo City Don," in which the beat to Eric B. and Rakim's classic "Paid in Full" provides the backdrop as Z-Ro shows off his fearsome, singsong freestyle skills. And then there's "The Mule," a brutally funny and funkily brutal Dani Kartel production that finds 'Ro, Devin the Dude and Juvenile coming up with one of the world's great schlong songs.
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But still, there's nothing here that sounds quite as radio-friendly as last year's regional hit "I Hate U." That's too bad, but something tells me this powerful stuff will be remembered a lot longer than most of the disposable hip-pop crap you hear on the radio.