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Between Mathematic’s booming vocal sample on the outstanding opener “BO2,” Pete Rock’s retro piano and trumpet composition on “A-Yo” and Rockwilder’s afro-futurist odyssey on “Hey Zulu,” Def Jam’s dynamic duo never seem out of their element – except maybe on “Mrs. International,” which is like a second-rate version of Jay-Z’s “Girls, Girls, Girls.” Otherwise, though, Blackout! 2 finds the MCs achieving the balance of humor, pop and hard hip hop that their respective albums always lack. Red plays the role of the jokester, which gets old in his solo projects and used to come off like a second-rate Busta Rhymes shtick. That comparison doesn’t really hold anymore, obviously, and Red delivers those trademark defiant prankster rhymes in his unmistakably percussive cadence that meshes so well with his colleague’s voice and subject matter. Whereas it’s nearly impossible to take Redman seriously, Meth’s raspy, breathy delivery gives his harder subject matter the air of lived experience. And as before, their chemistry only gets better with guests. Tracks featuring Raekwon and Ghostface (on “Four Minutes to Lockdown,” produced by Bink! doing his best RZA impression), Keith Murray (on “Errbody Scream”) and Bun B (on “City Lights”) are among the outstanding album’s most enjoyable moments.
Maybe, in the end, Red and Meth benefit from having the smallest of this week’s huge releases, and the one most in sync with the new school of rappers. They never achieved the level of superstardom that Busta Rhymes and Eminem reached in the rap-mad late 90s and early aughts. Now that blockbuster rap isn’t really sustainable anymore, they’re left in a more adaptable position with a devoted fan base (from Blackout!, Wu-Tang, Def Squad and maybe even How High) that won’t be outgrowing their sound anytime soon. Em and Busta, meanwhile, are faced with the daunting task of competing for massive shares of an increasingly fragmented market whose biggest spenders might not even remember their heydays. Put another way, they’re reaching for sales records that aren’t feasible anymore, whereas Method Man and Redman can afford to keep matching successes with disappointments and know that the same audiences will keep listening. Tellingly, Red raps on “A-Yo”: “I network on MySpace real late/ hoping my album make me another Bill Gates.” This mix of new tech-savvy music business fluency and outdated, ironic aspirations to 90s super-wealth is exactly what makes me think that Red and Meth will be fine going forward (and that Busta and Eminem’s inability to do similarly will prove their downfall). Since these artists’ heyday, the rap world has become smaller and arguably more talent-oriented (rather than image-driven). As mainstream hip hop shifts away from the violence of the last fifteen years towards a funnier, more self-conscious mode reminiscent of De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubians and the like, it’s fine to want to be a billionaire, as long as you can laugh about the fact that you’ll never actually be one.