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Amil

Roc-A-Fella/Columbia

For the past few years, Jay-Z has been yelling to anybody within earshot that the group of performers he’s assembled on his label, Roc-A-Fella, is destined to be “a dynasty like no other.” This has proved to be true—just not in the sense that Jay-Z meant it. Roc-A-Fella is the first dynasty that isn’t. The artists in Jay-Z’s stable, it turns out, are only shadows of their mentor. Jay-Z anointed Memphis Bleek as his successor as the King of New York, but the citizens of rapdom have turned up their noses at the questionable musical skills of the heir apparent. Bleek’s debut album was a hitless wonder. Labelmate Beanie Sigel is obviously more skilled than Bleek—but his best moments are all on other people’s tracks. Now we have Amil, the only female member of Jay-Z’s camp. Her debut album, All Money Is Legal, is a schizophrenic work, swinging from aching honesty to gangsta-bitch schtick. At its worst, the album is amazingly self-hating. At its best, All Money Is Legal pulls from Amil’s life experience to offer melancholy confessionals like “Smile 4 Me”: “Got my people up north trying to slice the bid/While I’m in love with a nigga with a wife and a kid.” Yet even at its high points, All Money Is Legal never escapes its inherent cheapness. Amil too often insists on reducing herself to a prostitute with a microphone, bitterly offering herself to the biggest Willie: “Nigga don’t tell me I’m your flyest bitch/If I can’t get the keys just to drive the whip/If I ain’t the one you take on them private trips.” And Amil’s cause isn’t helped by the production, which never moves beyond standard hippop fare. Unsurprisingly, all the queen of Jay-Z’s so-called dynasty really has to offer is Lil’ Kim-isms with a different face attached. —Ta-Nehisi Coates