Like a shark, hip-hop never stops moving, and in 2002 Cam’ron was the great white of the rap game. All of America was shoutin Oh Boy, women were hearin Hey Ma on every corner, and Cam was draped in pink furs. Then, slowly, it all began to unravel. After leaving Def Jam for the supposedly greener pastures of Warner Music, his next album Killa Season flopped. Then the core of his vaunted Dipset crew began to disintegrate, first Jim Jones broke away and then Juelz Santana. In the midst of all this drama, Cam essentially …
DJBooth Album Review
Don’t call it a comeback. More than three years after the release of his last album, Harlem’s finest is back with the ironically titled Crime Pays (crime might pay, but apparently not as well as music). If nothing else it’s good to hear Cam back on his grind, with all the tabloid beef it was easy to forget what a gifted lyricist he is, but Crime Pays is more than a “don’t forget about me” album. It’s a statement, the first battle in Cam’ron’s war to regain his previously elite status. LL Cool J can come knock me out if he wants, but I’m gonna have to call it a comeback.
It’s only fitting that we start with the intro, in this case the title track/manifesto Crime Pays. After such a prolonged absence Cam couldn’t afford to come soft on the first track, and Crime Pays announces its presence with shock and awe. Over production that sounds like a gangsta version of Phantom of the Opera, Cam launches into a flow delivered with a slowness that can only come from confidence, switching from punchlines to storytelling mode with ease. The bangers continue on Get It In Ohio, an unlikely Midwest anthem from a native East Coaster that pays homage to the glorious Buckeye state (birthplace of yours truly). Ohio hits so hard it’s easy to miss Cam’s lyricism, but a closer listen reveals rhymes like, “in Akron, my ni**ers they would throw things, not King James, these were coke kings.” Just in case you didn’t get how dope that line was, Lebron James was born in Akron. From the blazing Cookin Up to the apocalyptic Who, Crime Pays proves Cam’s skills have stayed sharper than a prison shank.
Bangers will earn you respect, but they won’t earn you radio play. Cam’s biggest hits have all come from juxtaposing his guttural flows with bright and airy production, a formula he doesn’t hesitate to use on Crime Pays. The album’s first shot at chart success is Never Ever, a track that bounces so brightly it feels like a Broadway production (Cam’s description, not mine). Never Ever is the kind of track you initially dismiss, until you end up singing it an hour later. I’d be surprised if it became a smash single, but never say never. By contrast Spend the Night is just flat-out aggravating. On Spend the Night Cam inexplicably decides to join forces with some quasi-house music production, a combination that works about as well as peanut butter and mayonnaise. Luckily the bulk of the album’s attempts at mainstream appeal are much better, the catchphrase heavy Curve and the soulful Silky are standouts, but while it’s too early to say that Cam’s days as a radio killa are over, the future’s not looking bright.
Note to all rappers: Stop with the skits. Just stop. That goes for you too Cam’ron. Crime Pays includes a torturous five skits, including one unintentionally depressing phone call that sounds like it could be a future version of Cam on Celebrity Sober House. Please rappers, no...more...f**king...skits.
Speaking of which, Crime Pays could use some serious editing. I know Cam must have accumulated a lot of material in three years, but do we really need 21 tracks? Really? The album’s length unfortunately dulls some of the album’s brightest spots, like the everyman anthem I Hate My Job, one of Cam’s realest tracks, ever. Still, while Crime Pays is far from a perfect album, it is more than enough to serve as a notice to hip-hop: Cam’ron’s back, and he is not to be slept on. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s getting a little cold in here. I’m going to go put on my pink chinchilla.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 05/11/09
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Ching, Cha, Ching ft. Hell Rell" (2007)
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