City Paper is not for tourists
Do big, ugly rappers have to make big, ugly music? The formula seems to apply to other body types. LL Cool J’s rhymes sound downright handsome if not athletic, and nobody spits a leaner verse than Snoop Dogg. Following this logic, it makes perfect sense that 8 Ball and MJG—two hulking, homely Memphis rap veterans—specialize in utterly gnarly club bangers. Their 2004 juggernaut “You Don’t Want Drama” might be the biggest, ugliest rap tune ever recorded: Its riotous chorus commands, “Bust a nigga head! Smack a ho! Shoot the club up!” Three years later, and nearly 15 years into their career, the two don’t sound quite so pissed off. It’s hard to imagine any of the cuts from their new album bulldozing their way into radio rotation à la “You Don’t Want Drama,” but Ridin High still packs a formidable wallop. And it comes thanks to these dudes’ almost monolithic delivery. MJG’s husky boasts and 8 Ball’s firm drawl often bear-hug the beat so tightly that their syllables tend to have more percussive punch than the 808 kicks in the background; their unrelenting delivery clear-cuts a path through the disc’s 19 tracks. After a requisite intro, the album kicks off with “Relax and Take Notes,” an amalgam of regional hip-hop sounds: crunk high-hats tick-tick-tick alongside a swerving G-Funk synth line and a Notorious B.I.G. vocal sample, as 8 Ball raps, “Illegal hustlin’/Dirty money musclin’/Spend it like I never saw a day of pain or sufferin’/Look at my face you can tell I seen both of them.” The title track voices similar sentiments, with MJG rapping, “I come from pain/Nothing but hurt in the worst way/Y’all don’t know me.” But this time he and 8 Ball are stomping over a buoyant ATL booty beat that sounds like something out of Ciara’s catalog. “Alcohol, Pussy, Weed,” is a lighter homage to the Saturday night trifecta that “even bitches like.” When it comes to getting high, getting head, or getting shot at, few rap about it with greater tenacity than these two. And that’s the big, ugly truth.