Big Shug - Streetchamp

Posted July 17, 2007
Tags: Big Shug,

Darwin didn’t have hip-hop in mind when he came up with the theory of evolution, but he...

Streetchamp Album Review

Darwin didn’t have hip-hop in mind when he came up with the theory of evolution, but he should have. Like every living thing rappers are a product of their environment. Diddy attended exclusive private schools growing up, is it any wonder he rhymes about yachts and private jets? By contrast, Big Shug’s from Boston’s deadly Mattapan projects, spent some serious time locked up, and then devoted himself to hip-hop after straightening out his life. Shug’s new album Streetchamp is the record of a man who composed rhymes in prison because hip-hop was the one thing the warden couldn’t take away and Streetchamp is accordingly stripped bare of flash and posturing. The effect is an album that wanders at times but never strays far from his home streets, the canvas that Shug rose off to become the champ.

Relatively unknown producer Moss did the bulk of the beat-making on the album and his partnership with Shug is surprisingly effective. Moss tends to lay distant and haunting harmonies over basic percussion, something that would seem to run counter to Shug’s battle rap centered flow, but the contrast generally works. On I’m Hood With That Moss constructs a beat echoing with muted strings that would seemingly call for an abstract flow, but Shug lays down one of he most straightforward rhymes on the album: “Chicks getting they hair did/with three or four kids/I’m hood with that.” By combining such different elements a potentially monotonous track stays fresh.

Fans who know Big Shug as a violently effective battle rapper won’t be disappointed; Streetchamp delivers. Legbreakers combines an ominous piano with rumbling rock guitar chords that set the backdrop for some brutally classic hardcore rap. Vocally, Big Shug snaps some fibulas along with Big Twin and the infamous Sean Price who starts his verse with “murder, murder, murder/kill, kill, kill.” You gotta love it. Being threatened with a broken leg is infinitely more intimidating than clichéd gun talk and the Legbreakers crew know it. I would highly recommend not pissing them off.

Everyone who listened to Shug’s debut album Who’s Hard already knew he could come hard, but on Streetchamp he showcases some outright soul. On What U Gonna Do Shug proves he’s got some versatility with a storytelling flow that touches on everyone from young boys only focused on becoming ballplayers to a pregnant mother hooked on drugs. In even more of a departure from expectations Shug does a fair amount of singing on the album. The track Lost is built around an acoustic guitar and Shug lays down a song’s worth of singing. His voice is somewhat reminiscent of Cee-Lo; neither one is going to challenge Usher anytime soon, but their unpolished style is exactly what makes them so appealing, you know they haven’t been vocally coached to death.

It wouldn’t be a Big Shug album without some DJ Premier tracks and sure enough his Gang Starr counterpart lays down three beats on the album including Play It, the standout track on Streetchamp. Premo lays down his distinctively layered melodies and scratching while Shug addresses radio DJs across the country to just play good music instead of worrying about selling ads. It’s clear that Shug is comfortable with Premier as he vocally rides tighter than on anywhere else on the album.

Play It is actually indicative of the album as a whole. Premier’s made better beats and there are more dynamic MCs out there than Shug, but before hip-hop got hijacked by marketing companies it was a reflection of people’s actual lives. In that regard Streetchamp comes closer to true hip-hop than most albums in recent memory, it’s the story of a city and the people who live and die within its borders. In nature it’s adapt or die and Big Shug’s evolved into an artist to be reckoned with. Only time will tell if he can continue to grow into a true hip-hop heavyweight.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted July 17, 2007
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