If you think Ahmad’s simply the dude who almost singlehandedly cemented the phrase “Back in the Day” into the hip-hop lexicon via his classic 1994 joint, you’re missing one of the most fascinating stories in hip-hop. It’s impossible to sum up a man’s life in the space of a paragraph, especially one with this many twists and turns, but I’m going to try: Ahmad dropped his platinum single Back in the Day while still in high school, struggled to release a sophomore album, left hip-hop and formed the “hiprocksoul” group 4th Avenue Jones, got signed …
DJBooth Album Review
Wait, I’m not done yet. The story gets even more remarkable. I know the more jaded amongst us, and I would usually include myself in that group, will read about a “one-hit wonder” rapper coming back after more than a decade long hiatus and conjure images of a past his prime boxer stumbling back into the ring for one more shot at glory (and a paycheck), and I hate to disappoint my fellow pessimists, but actually The Death of Me is, in a word, dope. Ahmad’s rhyme skills are as sharp as ever, and perhaps more importantly his time with 4th Avenue Jones has allowed him to develop a style completely and absolutely his own. Ironically, The Death of Me is the sound of an artist more alive than ever. In his words, Ahmad just went back to what he does best - rap.
I don’t know what I was expecting when I pressed play for the first time on Death of Me’s lead single Get Some Money & Go 2 Jail, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the looping, old school jazz-influenced track I found pulsing through my headphones. With Slaughterhouse alum and fellow west coaster Crooked I leading the way, Ahmad follows closely with raspy-voiced rhymes delivered in the flowing, semi-melodic cadences, resulting in a track that’s not only impossible to keep from getting stuck in your head, but provides some aptly comic social commentary as well. Ok, so Ahmad had my attention, but he really sealed the deal with I’ma Emcee, a similarly swinging cut that has Ahmad not only doing the track’s name justice lyrically, but pulling double duty with some impressive vocals. From the simultaneously aggressive and subdued Run Up On Me Tho to the narrative-driven Writtens to the hypnotically pounding Dang, The Death of Me is an album that could have only come from one man; one fearlessly original man.
Ahamd wrote The Death of Me while traversing California, driving from Stanford to L.A. and back weekly so his son could see his mother, so it should be no surprise that the album occasionally delves into some deeply personal territory, and it's at its most compelling when it does. Far from the swaggering cut a title like Nig Can’t Tell Me Nunt leads us to expect, Can’t Tell Me is a supremely subdued, electronically hazy record that Ahmad lays over with autobiographically engaging rhymes that cover everything from the joys and hardships of fatherhood to his struggles against haters. Likewise, on Like Hip-Hop Ahmad takes a page out of Common’s Used to Love H.E.R. book and crafts a break-up song that metaphorically covers his relationship with hip-hop and his woman and Don’t Run…Again juxtaposes rapid-fire percussion and a single piano stroke melody for an exploration of scared love. Tying all these tracks together is Ahamd’s trademark flow, an instantly recognizable style that owes its origins as much to Baptist preachers as west coast rap founders like The DOC. It’s the type of flow that takes a man decades to develop.
Don’t call The Death of Me a comeback, he’s been here for years. Actually, although in many ways Ahmad never left, go ahead and call it a comeback. He deserves it. I can’t believe there’s another rapper in hip-hop history who’s gone so long between dope albums, which makes this more than an album, it makes it a living piece of hip-hop history. Somedays we all we were a kid again, but thank god there’s still someone making grown man rap.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 08/11/10
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Get Some Money & Go to Jail" (2010)
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