My favorite scene in Killa Season, the craptacular straight-to-DVD directorial debut from Cam’ron, comes during an exchange where Cam and fellow Diplomat Hell Rell are playing video games, and Rell gets a call about a dude who’s being a pain in the ass, so he gives the go-ahead to kill him. Cam mentions having beef with the guy, so Rell offers — insists almost — to do the job himself. Rell’s a little eager, and Cam gives him this unrehearsed look, a sort of double-take smirk, to let him know that they’re just acting, and this is a movie, and they’re not really going to kill someone.
What makes this scene so genius is the way Cam slyly acknowledges that he doesn’t know, and refuses to learn, the first thing about filmmaking. And yet, he gets the bigger picture. Killa Season is terrible — really, you can’t begin to understand how bad this movie is — and somehow, Cam manages the feat of a cinematic idiot savant; he breaks the fourth wall in a way that’s perfectly clueless and amusing. It’s the kind of aloof charm Cam has been tweaking on wax for — if you can believe it — eight years now, evidenced brilliantly on his last album, 2004’s Purple Haze. On Killa Season (the CD), the appeal is magnified: the bugged-out factor is tenfold, the lyrics-within-lyrics and inside jokes are at an all-time high, the focus is narrowed and select. It’s Cam at his most obtuse and inaccessible. But he’s also at his most liberated, his most artful. Once that realization sets in, Killa Season becomes thrilling.
With Purple Haze, Cam’ron turned hustler realism into chic storytelling, capturing the hood as ugly entertainment. (“Harlem Streets” flipped the Hill Street Blues TV show theme to startling effect.) Killa Season, despite its theatrical overtones, and despite actually being a loose soundtrack to a DVD, shrugs off the circus-ring posturing and is instead meaner, darker. There’s a rap-as-pro-wrestling undercurrent throughout, especially in the dramatic trumpets that drive the great “War” and “Girls, Cash, Cars,” but the way Cam spits the “fuckin’ with this wolf” line in the intro is a sobering reminder of just how serious it gets. “Living a Lie” un-cages a snake of a bass line that feels like metaphorical paranoia: either it’s after Cam, or it’s after the dudes Cam’s calling out. Fate wins both ways.
At the forefront is Killa’s ridiculous spit game, supported by grand production, big choruses and funny ad-libs. From the Alchemist-helmed “Wet Wipes”: “They all comical, Killa, killer phenomenal/ Honor the honesty, mommy/ Illest villain, I promise you.” Cam dances with a beat, gets the backseat, then it’s back to the seat: “My henchmen/ They lynch men/ They apply the appliances, the wrench men/ That’s since ten/ I been attendin’/ Plaintiff, defendant/ Sentence independence.” In “We Make Change” (pronounced “change-ay”), it’s rapid-fire coke talk with a Midwestern twist (Cam loves nostalgia): “Okay, here go the rundown/ Niggas gonna run down, tell ya put ya gun down, pump, pump, pump, shut down, uptown, in the house, holla back, come around, done clownin’/ I’ma do the fast-slow, not rap when I bag a O, when I wrap that/ Pass that, cash back, fast that/ Muthafuckas had to know.” The hypnotic hook: “And we bomb like ‘La Bamba’ with bombers, send bombers to bomb ya with bombs in they bomber.” Simple, ain’t it? Quite clever.
The complaints lodged against Killa Season — too isolating, chintzy production, no star power — aren’t false so much as they don’t matter. They’re in the wrong context. Cam’ron has all the puzzling appeal of a drunken carnival barker, brash and unpredictable, right down to the Jay-Z taunt (“You Gotta Love It,” not nearly as empty as people think) and poop rants (“I.B.S.,” the one track I could do without). But there’s no one else who can pull this off — crew included — and certainly no one willing to try. And although it might take balls the size of potatoes to attempt, it takes bigger brains to make it worthwhile.
Cam’Rom on Asylum Records’ Web site