June 20, 2014

AZ "Doe or Die" (The Source, November 1995)

"When AZ borrows Melle Mel's famous chorus from "The Message" (It's like a jungle sometimes...") on the title track for Doe or Die, he isn't doing it as a gimmick or a tribute. He's simply expanding on a theme used by all great MCs throughout hip-hop: survival. For masters like G. Rap and Rakim, tales of strivin' and survivin' were the fuel to their verbal fire. Now the mic has been passed to the next school of reality-hardened street poets. Rising out of the darkness and ignorance of the gangsta era, AZ represents the MC who tries to overcome negativity instead of succumbing to it. The track that best represents AZ's philosophy is "Homicide," a tag team effort with Nas that reflects upon the dangers of living foul. On "Born Alone, Die Alone," the song's chilling endpiece, AZ expresses raw fear and confusion: "All alone in this wilderness / who could figure life as ill as this / my vision's blurred from gorilla's mist / gunspray strays left a portion of my crew in graves." AZ also stands apart from his loochie-desiring peers, 'cause his brand of materialism is collective. In the Pete Rock-produced "Gimme," his talk about "moving cleverly with intentions of longevity" isn't selfish, but expresses a desire for the good life on behalf of ghetto sufferers everywhere." Cont'd below...

"Another talent that differentiates AZ is his ability to inject political awareness into his rhymes, portraying politicians as the perpetrators of misery that they are. "We was already molded in people's minds as moulianis / now we're more fucked up with a mayor named Giuliani," he rhymes on "Rather Unique." It's little bits of wisdom like this, and the Five Percent knowledge dropped on tracks like "We Can't Win," that display his special type of consciousness. AZ doesn't preach, nor does he claim to be a leader. He's the Visualiza, illuminating the painful truths of ghetto reality through layer upon layer of on-point rhymes. But Doe or Die ain't all about lyrical skill. AZ has assembled an all-star squad of producers to help bring the noise. Loose creates the perfect sonic background for "Uncut" with a sinister keyboard loop and tight drum track; "Hoe Happy Jackie" features funky female background vocals hooked up by Buckwild and the "Sugarhill" remix by LES has a hardness that the original version lacks. All the producers have succeeded in laying down dope tracks while keeping AZ's rapid-fire flow at the forefront. The skill level presented on Doe or Die places AZ at the forefront of East Coast rhymers, up there with Biggie, Chef Raekwon and his homie Nas. This is really some next shit." - The Source, November 1995. Is it a classic or nah?