You might recall Styles P as Akon’s first guest-spot collaborator, way back in 2004 for the remix of the grade-school chant-a-long “Locked Up.” Funny (sad?) how the roles have been reversed: Akon, back then a nobody, has usurped Nate Dogg as some kind of default hook-filler, and Styles, once the proprietor of a highly anticipated sophomore album, is on the receiving end of some lukewarm, dust-on-the-shelf Jive treatment, despite not actually being on Jive Records.
Styles’s first record, the mostly great A Gangster and a Gentleman, was released in 2002 to good reviews and strong sales, anchored by the singles “The Life,” featuring Pharaohe Monch, and “Good Times,” where Styles’s confident, deliberate flow found itself taunted by a punchy Swizz Beatz track.
Time Is Money is also anchored by two singles, the Lil Jon-produced, Akon-assisted “Can You Believe It?” and the pride anthem “I’m Black.” Problem is, of course, that these singles came out in 2005-in the latter’s case, almost two years prior to the release of Time Is Money. To top it off, these singles, plus a pair of familiar mixtape tracks (“Who Want a Problem?,” here a remix featuring the Lox, and “Favorite Drug”) account for a third of the record. That means there are only eight songs on Time Is Money you haven’t already heard, and while I’m really bogging things down with the numbers game, you can’t help but feel that Styles wasn’t supposed to release a second album at all, let alone this one.
And those eight tracks? Well, each feels constructed as a stand-alone, a unique idea, and not one could be written off as unredeemable. “Burn One Down” and “How We Live” are winter-harsh, well-crafted pieces of uncompromising New York-ness. On “Testify,” Styles teams with Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek and jacks A Tribe Called Quest, a perfect complement to the big-picture awareness of “I’m Black” and the closing “Leave a Message.” Even the crossovers (“Kick It Like That,” with, um, Jagged Edge), throwaways anywhere else, stick around longer than they should.
In fact, everything here (twelve songs, but still) is pretty great, given the overall lack of concern this whole thing was clearly a victim of. Then, folded into one continuous listen, Time Is Money does something else, something remarkable: It sounds intentional. It’s terse, lean street-rap, made bittersweet by its creator’s unceremonious departure from the label that waited until everyone stopped watching the clock before putting in one of their best players. Time ran out; Styles didn’t.