"We should never be afraid to be private in public, because that is what art is all about. . . . It’s the best explanation of who we are in our humanity. . . . It’s the best defense against someone stealing our creativity." ~Wendell Pierce, The Sound of Young America
In his video for "The Truth," Beanie Sigel’s debut single from his 2000 album of the same name, the first glimpse of the imposing rapper is an incongruous image: tucked underneath soft red bedcovers and fast asleep. The scene changes quickly as Sigel becomes locked in a Nightmare on Elm Street-style dream cycle; even in the supposed sanctity of sleep he finds no peace. As a sample of Graham Nash’s organ hammers away relentlessly, Sigel forcibly explains that the devil on his tail is not a constructed Freddie with metal nails but his own ‘hood and its hopeless tales. The beat-down he receives on a Technicolor sunny day in the video’s closing moments only punctuates the irony of the familiar adage, "The truth shall set you free."
This grit and gravitas rightfully earned Sigel broad acclaim. His depictions of street life were bluntly graphic and frequently menacing, yet perversely witty and wry enough to create layers of meaning — or, more familiarly, his rhymes carried the inherent qualities of the blues. It was this nuanced ability to publicize his private thoughts and feelings that attracted a broad swath of listeners. The Truth gave listeners a reason to believe.
Although his follow-up The Reason made a few too many club and radio concessions, 2005’s The B.Coming signaled a breakthrough in his hardened exterior. Recorded while facing incarceration, the album starkly meditated on the self and repercussions of actions. With his release from prison a year later, we naturally expected a long-awaited creative breakthrough.
Unfortunately, Sigel has taken a step away from reconciling the truth on his fourth full-length, The Solution. Instead of shedding the one-note dimension of his popular Broad Street Bully persona, he simply cloaks himself in another unconvincing and uninteresting trope: the mack-lover. He immediately declares this on the album opener and lead single "All the Above," a collaboration with current H.A.M. extraordinaire R. Kelly, as he clamors greedily for every possible stereotype: "I’m a mack, I’m a thug/ I’m a pimp/ I’m all the above." Subsequently, the first two-thirds of the album veers absent-mindedly between been-there-done-that battle tracks and cringe-inducing booty-clap tracks.
Perhaps more offensive than the complete waste of Beanie’s talents is the waste of his peers’ time. "U Ain’t Ready 4 Me" should raise the eyebrows of those keeping score as Sigel trades verses with former nemesis Styles P, but neither rises past the molasses-paced beat. The requisite duet with Poppa Hova, "Gutted," is just that: requisite. And most disappointing is the appearance of State Property arsonist Peedi Crakk (now Peedi Peedi) on the MySpace-grade Sean Paul imitation "Shake It for Me." These tracks are so confusing and disappointing that they actually take Sigel several creativity steps back from whence he started seven years ago.
But a glimmer of hope appears in the album’s home stretch. Beginning with the meat-locker cold "What They Gonna Say to Me," Sigel finally summons the guttural and seemingly responds to events in the last couple years. "Two shots of dark liquor to the liver/ Harder than a n*gga on this prison yard." This frustration quickly boils over into vitriol on the much-hyped Sabbath-sampling "The Day," which may not be the most creative sampling of "War Pigs" but is a welcome addition to the hip-hop canon.
This rage jump-cuts awkwardly to the reflective section of the album, punctuated by the conflicted "Dear Self (Can I Talk to You)," which scripts an unresolved argument between Sigel’s conscience and his self, and the regretful "Prayer." But The Solution closes on a hopeful note. Though Sigel has taken a circular route back to the blunt expository days of his debut, he seems prepared to once again face the truth of his surroundings.