So, here's one for you: Z-Ro's highly anticipated Heroin album, the junior LP in his line of drug-themed efforts, has apparently been released.
No press release, no Twitter tweets, no radio spots, no nothing. It's just out. You can cut that up any way you see fit, but it doesn't matter. Because there's only one thing that people need to mention when they talk about this album: it sucks.
The perplexing Mr. Rother Vandross, one of Houston's most beloved rappers, an MC so curiously underrated that he became overrated which somehow led to him being underrated again, Mo City's rapping demigod, has managed to deliver a highly disappointing album. The apocalypse is upon us, apparently.
Now, a little bit of clarification is necessary. For the average fan, for someone that doesn't own his discography, this will be a fine album. There are plenty of cuts on there that, musically, are tough as nails.
But for anyone that's been paying attention, Heroin is basically a balk. And there's only one major reason why. By and large, you've heard this album before. It is plagued with hand-me-down rerun beats, choruses and lyrics from other spots.
When he leans on it sparingly, referencing himself in his rhymes or mimicking R&B favorites, it feels meta and hip. On this CD though, it's just too much, and ends up unwinding what it is he's trying to do. Some bulleted examples that you can throw around like you came up with them:
• "Never Let It Go," the first song on the album, stands alone as a good track. It's wonky and country and melodic and Ro hits that quick speed flow, which is probably the third best version of his sound. But he recycles the important part of "King of the Ghetto" from The Life of Joseph W. McVey to give the song its spine. Plus, he works an R. Kelly sample in there too.
• There are two versions of this album out there: The one that's available on Amazon, and the one that you're going to find when you try and download it illegally. The illegal version, which will dub the 'Ro Version because we're so clever, has a redo of "Denzel Washington," originally spotted on Cham's Mixtape Messiah 7.
The new souped-up version of "Denzel Washington" is too metallic and wobbly. It strips Cham of his strength and doesn't wrap itself around Ro's sing-song section like the original version did. Paul Wall is effective here (he sounds particularly natural when measured against the general manufactured aesthetic of the song), but not so much that the rest of the song should've been mortgaged. If you're going to offer up the same song twice, at least make sure you pick the better version.
• "We Don't Speed" is good song. But it was better the first time we heard back when he released it on Cocaine and called it "Tha Police." It's the exact same song. And it's only one of two instances of bait and switch here. "Move Your Body" you'll no doubt remember. It used to be called "Shotta." It was on Cocaine too. (That, by the by, is a great album.)
• He samples R. Kelly again on "Driving Me Wild," though somehow manages to make it even more explicit than the original version. Clever Part That Might've Been By Accident But Even If It's Not It's Still Kinda Unsettling: He has a line in there that says, "Baby, show me some ID. You fine as a motherfucker but you might be 16."
• Mya shows up on "Boss." She's proving herself to be a solid choose for a Houston-rrific rap track, though she seems to perform best with Ro opposite her. Perhaps it's because she knows he'll stab her in the belly if she doesn't? We sure as shit know we'd turn these blog posts in on time every day if the threat of being stabbed were hanging over my head. [Ed. Note: We'll take that under advisement.] Either way, good song. Too bad a version has appeared on no less than two albums before this.
• "Do Bad On My Own" completely lifts the chorus from his and Trae's "No Help." Uncool. Now, there's a part in the second verse of "Real or Fake" where Ro' says "...ballin' outta control like number 8 from the Lakers." And Kobe changed his number from 8 (which is what he began his career as) to 24 (what he is now) back in 2006.
And that's the same year everyone first heard "No Help," so maybe a few of these songs from this album were recorded first, including the offending "Do Bad On My Own." But even if it was, it's not like Ro/RAL didn't know "No Help" came out. It's a Houston classic. Even if he did record "Do Bad On My Own" first, there's no way he/they should've let it out afterwards. It just doesn't play well.
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• The two tracks from the end of the album, "Rollin' On Swangaz" and "Letz Ride" showed up a while back too. Chris Ward, who's on both tracks, is a solid, solid feature. It'll be nice to hear a proper album from him soon.
For all our derision, there are a few fun parts on the album. "Come Back Wit It" is a winner (we'll squint our way past the redoes in this song). And Billy Cook's work on "Gangsta Girl" is admirable. He's just so eager. He probably sweats a lot when he sings. There's just no way you can not like him.
It's almost a certainty that that song came from the phantom Ro/Cook album that Rap-A-Lot advertised a year or two ago, though. Shame that that never dropped. Or did it? You never can tell.
Have a Z-ro'd out weekend. Thank you for your continued support.