You’ve got to feel sorry for Black Rob. He was once the hardbody prince of Bad Boy Records, had a massive smash with “Whoa,” and parlayed that success into a platinum album. Then he went to prison for robbing people (Well, his rap name has the word “rob” in it, so what did you expect?), and recently resurfaced, freshly down with the dudes at Duck Down records. While it’s a look that fits him better than any Shiny Suit ever could, it all but guarantees he won’t move nearly as many units as he could if he had a music video with Puffy standing beside him whispering sweet nothings into his ear.
Instead, Black Rob drinks the Duck Down Kool-Aid and delivers an album full of retro, New York minor-key aggression, light on adlibs and heavy on gravitas. Black Rob depicts life as he (probably) lives it: full of dealing, going to prison, and celebrating your subsequent release from prison.
These types of albums, vividly detailing street-level dealing, are tailor-made for people who are really into The Wire. When a guy like Roc Marciano or Sean Price makes something in this vein, the result is what might happen if a quirky drug dealer with a winning personality such as Wee-Bey or Prop Joe went and made a rap record. Black Rob, on the other hand, is more like Marlo, one of the more boring characters from The Wire. Marlo would think it was a great idea to record “This Is What It Is,” which has a chorus that repeats the titular phrase ad infinitum over some boringly ominous keys, and then basically re-use the beat for the next song, titled “Up North, This Is What It Is.”
Another thing Black Rob has going against him is his flow, a straight-ahead, lumbering baritone that suggests that though he might have been paroled, he left his energy up north. If he’s spitting over the hooky horns of “Welcome Back,” then it’s fine. The beat is busy enough to distract you from Rob. Most of these tracks are the basic pianos-and-snares stuff that, done well, can be so awesome that it’s the only thing you want to listen to ever. Done poorly, and you’re in for a long album. And even though it clocks in at a scant fifty minutes, Game Tested, Streets Approved feels much longer.