Hidden under a cliché Southern-looking cover and slipped into stores with the trademark anti-promotion that Rap-A-Lot is known for, Z-Ro's Let the Truth Be Told was basically ignored by the music press. So, six months after it was released, let me be one of the first to say that this is one of the best hip-hop records of the year: a bleak, hard-hitting, but ultimately forgiving album that highlights the best social commentary hip-hop can offer. Produced almost completely by Mr. Lee and Mike Dean, every beat is a winner, and together they prove that they - not Slim Thug or Mike Jones - are truly the kings of Houston, providing inventive, molasses-dotted beats that creep over the track and refuse to let go.
But Z-Ro is the true star. Toiling for years now with a number of records under his belt, Z-Ro has the laid-back attitude of his Southern brethren but the gangsta-smooth delivery of Nate Dogg and the social consciousness of fellow former Death Row inmate 2pac. He kicks the record off with a five-minute flow over Coldcut's "Paid in Full (7 Minutes of Madness Remix)" beat. It's a great freestyle performance, one that's even good enough to forgive him for replacing Rakim. And his voice is currently one of the best around. He can switch from hook to verse in an instant, and he knows just when to nail an inflection to perk up a couplet. His skills range from "The Mule," a typical Devin the Dude-type sex-filled track, to the street-ready "I'm a Soldier" and on to "Auntie and Grandma," the ode to the family members that raised him, all without missing a step.
Often maligned for being too depressing (something he apologizes for at the beginning of "Another Song"), Z-Ro is a Southern rapper that evolved from Southern music, the kind of regional gem David Banner wishes he was. It's a shame Z-Ro has to apologize for that, but releasing an album this good with no filler, no skits and no tracks that pander to the clubs is something that should be celebrated. That it hasn't even registered on the mainstream radar is a travesty. You can blame Rap-A-Lot for both the freedom afforded Z-Ro and the obscurity he struggles against. But the artistic accomplishments here rest solely on Z-Ro's shoulders, and they are truly impressive. Don't let this fantastic album pass you by.
Z-Ro on Rap-A-lot's Web site: http://www.rapalotrecords.com/multimedia/zro/zronewalbum.html
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