With a bevy of behind-bars interviews, Shyne, incarcerated for the past few years in upstate New York’s Clinton Correctional Facility in connection with the infamous 1999 J-Lo/Puffy club shootout, created a groundswell of hype this summer around his mysteriously created comeback album. After Godfather Buried Alive shot to number one in its first week, though, wardens at the jail apparently caught on to the former Bad Boy emcee’s game and cut off his phone and media privileges. Without the benefit of hype, the album now must stand alone on its merits if it is to extend Shyne Po’s bubble until his release from jail as many as six years down the line — a lofty task to ask of a record conceived and thrown together entirely while the artist was behind bars.
A quick listen reveals an album recorded primarily as a tormented Jamal Barrow awaited sentencing for his alleged crime, but a handful of vocals recorded through the phone from jail (“Buried Alive,” “For the Record”) fill in some blanks on what still feels like a largely incomplete album.
“Buried alive” in jail, Shyne’s worldview is even darker than what was found on his debut, 2000’s Shyne, perhaps Bad Boy’s darkest non-Biggie release. Accordingly, Godfather operates with little of the crime-is-fun giddiness of his newly sworn rival 50 Cent and pals, instead opting for Biggie-like cautiousness. A few compelling tracks offer dark jewels of insight matched with appropriately dark beats, particularly the Buckwild-produced, Bob Marley-flavored “Quasi O.G.,” in which Shyne shows signs of a burgeoning political awareness while making astute observations on the state of black America. Addressing those who would pass negative judgment on his criminal record, Shyne suggests he’s “just carrying on the tradition of Joe Kennedy/ Bootlegging, ties with the mob and shit.” Elsewhere, “Edge” and “Godfather” hold down the album’s second half with tight flows over well-used beats from producers Charlemagne and Yogi.
But there are some really bad moments. Why anyone with a rep on the line would want to fuck with Irv Gotti and Ashanti is perplexing. Yett “Jimmy Choo,” a mind-numbing ode to women’s fashion produced by Irv and featuring Ashanti that is Godfather‘s worst track, has been made into its first video. “Martyr,” produced by Chucky Thompson and the unknown Moses Levy, also has an insipid, tuneless hook that overburdens an already below-grade track.
Surprisingly, the hack-ish Swizz Beats comes with some heat, chopping some eerie strings into one of the album’s best backdrops on “Shyne,” and Just Blaze does his usual good work on “Here with Me” and “Diamonds and Mack 10s.” But Shyne brings little to the table on the latter two other than cliched gangsterisms. That might be what the fans want and expect from Shyne, but it’s a disappointing turn after the promise he shows on earlier tracks like “Quasi O.G.”