Shyne’s self-titled debut is not his fault. The record was given a death sentence the day Shyne signed with Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy label. In case you haven’t heard the hype surrounding this kid, you should know that Shyne’s voice and cadence are remarkably similar to those of Puffy’s most noted protégé, Biggie Smalls. It’s no secret that after Biggie’s murder, Bad Boy suffered an immediate loss of street credibility. The departure of the Lox did little to help the situation. So when word got out that Puffy had signed Shyne, the prevailing theory was that Puffy was attempting to resurrect Biggiealbum sales, juice, and allin the person of a two-bit style-lifter. Street heads, who had never afforded Puffy much respect anyway, took the act as a sign of disrespect to arguably the most beloved rapper ever.
Puffy has denied all such conspiracy theories. Yet whatever his logic in signing Shyne was, the move has proved a disaster. Shyne has been deemed rapper non grata in the hiphop world. In this era of gratuitous cross-cameos, Shyne has made almost no appearances on other people’s records outside of the Bad Boy stable. On his own album, there is only one guest artistand it isn’t even a rapper, but reggae singer Barrington Levy.
It all points to the dismal failure of Puffy’s most audacious and arrogant experiment. For years, Puffy force-fed cotton-candy rap to music fans. Despite his propensity for beat-jacking, Puffy, with the aid of radio, managed to have his music everywhere. Even if you hated “Been Around the World,” it seemed useless to resist it. And there was seemingly always another Puff Daddy track waiting a few turns down the dial. On Biggie’s “Long Kiss Goodnight,” Puffy articulated it best: “I’m gonna make you love me.” Even those few underground heads who did manage to escape Puff’s omnipresent tracks were seduced by the lyrical precision of Biggie, Puff’s lead accomplice.
That precision is nowhere evident on Shyne’s debut, a deplorable work fully equipped with rote beats and rhymes that have been done many times before. Like most gangsta cats’, Shyne’s world revolves around crackand his ability to tell you how effective he is at dispensing it. The album is stuffed with tales of murder, thievery, and other acts of immorality. Shyne’s theme is an old onea young black male enslaved by poverty and sent over the edge into a life of crime and debauchery. It is the standard hiphop slave narrative that Biggie once excelled at rendering. Yet Shyne’s worldview lacks the self-reflection, insight, and sophistication to reach beyond the length of a 9-mmor his penis. Biggie had his own problems with depth and complexity, but Shyne’s shoot-’em-up cartoon imagery is about as deep as The Yogi Bear Show.
The album begins on a serious notesort ofas Shyne offers “Dear America,” a spoken-word cut that seeks to explain the pathology that his album is about to exhibit: “Dear America/I’m only what you made me/Young, black, and fucking crazy….I’m dying inside/Can’t you see it in my eyes?” The first real song on the album, “Whatcha Gonna Do,” actually measures up to the standards of East Coast gun talk as Shyne goes right to the heart of his identity problem: “There’s been a lot of dick riding, for lack of a better word/Speculation on the guns I hold underneath my furs/ Similarities in my voice nigga check the word.”
But all that follows “Whatcha Gonna Do” represents Shyne’s descent into the world of hiphop clichébraggadocio about street credibility and an unparalleled ability to exploit women sexually. The gangsta aesthetic has been duly criticized for its glamorization of a life that usually ends ugly. Shynenot Allen Iversonshould be the poster boy for such criticisms. There is nothing artistically redeeming about the album. Shyne lacks Mobb Deep’s tragic viewpoint, Jay-Z’s formidable wit, and Nas’ eye for detail. At the end of the disc, Shyne emerges as merely the unfortunate clone of a late great MC.
None of this matters to Puffy, who seems to be so drunk on the power of radio carpet-bombing that he firmly believes he can tell music fans what to like. He’s already proved it once by making himself, a man utterly without lyrical talents, a platinum-selling artist. In Shyne, Puffy seeks to prove that he made Biggie, not the other way around. Puffy found a kid with a modicum of talent and a Biggielike flow and decided that this time, he would prove that it was his formula, not Biggie’s artistry, that made the hits. He would show us that the cold mathematics of pop trump art every time, that there are a million Biggie Smalls just waiting to be touched, that a hit is only a matter of the right calculation.
Puffy has proved, at best, that there is something mathematical to the art of shaking asses. But, despite the best efforts of the music industry, people are not automatons. Whatever magic Biggie and Puffy had was a two-part deal. Puffy’s pop sensibility and Biggie’s dark humor and hard-core aesthetic were the perfect combo to, as Chuck D said, “reach the bourgeois and rock the boulevard.” With this Shyne debacle, Puffy has tarnished whatever respect he once commandedand written the epitaph to another forgettable talent: “Here lies the career of Shyne. No Biggie.” CP