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One of the most confounding conditions in contemporary music has got to be the forced duality of the so-called gangsta rapper. Talented lyricists like B.I.G. and J.Z. must perpetuate at least the illusion of continuing criminal involvement well after signing lucrative record contracts in order to maintain street credibility and, ultimately, sales. It is, of course, clear to anyone who has actually seen hard times that a record deal is a thug’s dream come true and an excellent way to escape from life-threatening illegal activity. This glaring contradiction is even more painfully blatant on Fatal’s debut album, In the Line of Fire, because the project is so obviously well crafted. With the debilitated state of Death Row Records heralding the imminent demise of West Coast gangsta rap, Fatal recognizes the need to snag both coasts, enlisting hardcore Bronx bomber Freddie Foxxx on “M.O.B.” and the West’s Mac Mall on “Outlaws.” The tracks are equally universal with “Getto Star,” featuring Artifact’s Tame One sparking a Dirty Jersey vibe, and “Everyday” serving as a cool party groove. Fatal, aka Hussein, is a competent MC, at times clever and complex. Nevertheless, he manifests a fuck-the-whole-world, dead-man-walking mentality throughout the album that is far too disturbing under the circumstances. After all, the other founding members of his Outlaws crew, Khadafi and the infamous Tupac Shakur, were both killed by gunfire in separate incidents in 1996. Knowing just how tragically life can imitate art, it seems reasonable that Fatal might want to step back from the line of fire.

—Neil Drumming