As these words are written — and most likely by the time they’re read — Fort Worth-by-way-of-Detroit rapper Twisted Black sits in a jail cell in Odessa, Texas, serving a thirty-year sentence for charges related to selling crack cocaine. It’s not the first time he’s been to jail, and it’s not the first time a jail sentence has stunted Twisted Black’s ability to promote his music — he apparently spent time in prison in the late 1990s for assault. (Before that, he’d been shot in the face; a photo of the injuries graces the cover of Look What the Streets Made, the 1995 album from his former group, One Gud Cide.)
Street Fame is Twisted Black’s label debut, after a string of independent releases throughout the ’90s and ’00s. It’s raw and last-ditch, and it’s hard not to let the bleak strains of life imitating art set in, especially when the uncomfortably gritty narratives bob and weave with the sharp pulses of the low-budget beats. The best moments are the ones that crush expectations: “Coldest Summer Ever” paints a portrait of suffocating despair in title alone, but its six and a half minutes of cinematic detail, laid over ominous piano twitches and a relentless, simple drum loop, are something else altogether. Elsewhere, the chopped-and-screwed chorus of “S.W.A.C.” fits perfectly into the stripped-down “I Ain’t No Joke”-style breakbeat to create something militant and proud.
The production — or lack thereof, really — is based around classic non-East Coast rap: unashamed 808-leaning, swooshes of synths and strings, creeping keys and bass, occasional electric guitar. “Keep It Simple” sounds exactly like DJ Quik’s work. Then there’s Twisted’s flow, what Kurupt might sound like had he been raised in Texas. It’s incredibly targeted, only the slightest hint of drawl bubbling up, usually on slower tracks like “Hustler’s Prayer” or in lighter, more mindless moments like “What Y’all Wanna Do” and “Touch Toes.”
Tucked into the tightest creases of Twisted’s delivery are his stories, unending bars of boasts and confident tough-talk but also sorrow and unnerving regret (“New Boot” — wow). They’re stories that seem as if they couldn’t be kept untold any longer, revealed in a new light. After all, it’s not like Twisted’s life is on the line with this album; that fate has already been decided. All that’s left now is his art.