The Lox is a rap group. It raps. Unremarkably. The only remarkable thing about Money, Power & Respect is that this shit is gonna go platinum. At least. Maybe double. Depends on the math. Sales equals the temperature in Bali on Jan. 23 divided by the number of times Puffy Combs appears in your video. The group is the most recent addition to the Bad Boy roster, which means it’ll go platinum. At least.
The most confounding element of the Puffy movement is the fact that he has consistently generated multiplatinum sales with wholly recycled sounds and a roster of acts whose mediocrity is exceeded only by their materialism and capacity for ignorant commentary. The allure, I’ve been told, lies not in Combs’ having built a better mousetrap but in his having simply caught better-looking mice. He worked this magic the first time when he transformed a fat and surly but verbally brilliant Brooklyn boy into a bona fide plus-size sex symbol.
Make no mistake: Bad Boy is the house that Big built. The death of the Sublime Obese almost a year ago was expected to cripple the label; instead, Li’l Kim the Gynecologic and Mase—a man who flows like a blocked urethra—came off the bench and did the musical equivalent of hitting three-pointers from midcourt. The ascent of Li’l Kim, the platinum-headed mama who packs more vaginal allusions than a physician’s desk reference (and all the sex appeal of a Pap smear), defines the term “enigma.” Such is the genius of the boy Midas of rap. And thus we return to the subject at hand. This group that raps. Unimpressively. Not so badly on that infectious explanation of the Lox’s worldview, “All About the Benjamins,” but the new CD left me with a completely blank expression on my face.
Money, Power & Respect is a tour through their urban Oz, a testament that features such creative hook lines as “Who’s not to be fucked wit’? Me/Who’s to be fucked wit’? Him.” By way of introduction, they rework the opening monologue of A Bronx Tale—only their version is set a dozen or so miles further north. Their odyssey unfolds in Yonkers, once a suburban adjunct to the five boroughs, now just another asphalt empire and inspiration for the trio’s Corleone fantasies.
If there is an element of promise to MP&R, it is the fact that the Lox manages, for the most part, to avoid the extended musical quotes that dominate so much of Bad Boy’s output. In fact, the first six tracks hold their own, but in their wake the disc flatlines into a series of nondescript, sedentary tones. The group does, however, borrow the three ascending notes last sighted on Supercat’s “Ghetto Red Hot,” and resurrects the comparatively ancient bass line from MC Lyte’s classic 1989 girl dis “Shut the Fuck Up.”
The R&B-suffused “Let’s Start Rap Over” is purely aural thorazine and richochets off the subsequent female references in songs like “Bitches of Eastwick.” Next, “The Heist”: flat. “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop”: DOA. It’s not as simple as the Lox being bad rappers, because they turn the creative phrase with a degree of regularity; it’s the fact that there is absolutely nothing new or interesting about them or anything they have to say.
The themes: cash, guns, a simpleton version of “respect,” and, as a female friend told me, why everyone with breasts should be interested in fucking them—if they aren’t already doing so. The title track features a guest appearance by Li’l Kim and is probably the most substantial offering. Money, power, and respect are the blessed trinity of their hiphop faith.
A concession: The Lox is far from being the first group to mimic the crass materialism that pops up from every corner of this society, but where the Notorious One transformed his love of cash into a poignant epic, they just kinda rap. Unoriginally. And those critically unhip knaves who don’t share their perspective on the world are judiciously declared player-haters. But hold on. Talk to me about how Wu-Tang takes some of the same constituent elements and creates an indisputably higher level of work. Standing the Lox next to the Wu would be like sending your neighborhood bully out to pick a fight with Roy Jones. Knowing how to make a grand exit is as elemental to celebrity as knowing how to make an entrance. The Lox’s departure track is the tragically ineffective “We’ll Always Love Big Poppa.” The lines “God bless your moms/your kids/and all your friends,” come off as a spiritual placebo in light of the preceding 21 tracks of agnostic boulevard terrorism.
But when it all gets down to the get-down, my piddling concerns about originality, creativity, and style get damned to hell, because the Lox is a group that raps. Profitably.