On a list of the Top 30 Rappers People Have Argued Are the Best Rapper Alive, Jadakiss would be somewhere in the middle. A core of devoted lobbyists swear by the Yonkers MC’s smooth, seething flow, but without a knock-out album or swaggering charisma he fades from memory quickly during long breaks between releases. These are another symptom of his frustrating career: Jada bounced around record labels and fought for publishing rights (with P. Diddy no less!), so making a strong, focused album hasn’t always been his top priority. Still, with his calm, crisp delivery and intricate street life-rhymes, most agree that Jada could be nearer the top of the game.
And like any rapper worth the ice around his neck, he’s among the first to claim his canonical status. Reprising a line we’ve heard him spit before, Jada claims “Top 5 dead or alive’s what they consider him” on “Grind Hard” with Mary J. Blige — a great track that would be even better if its spacey production (courtesy The Inkredibles) didn’t muffle MJB’s pipes. In fact, save Ne-Yo’s contribution to the catchy retro romp “By My Side,” a glut of lousy R&B chorus-singers makes The Last Kiss sloppy. Jada’s not a pop rapper, and this album’s attempt to rebrand him as such is as disappointing as Common’s recent like-minded maneuver with Universal Mind Control.
Amid all the guests (Jada goes solo for two of the 18 tracks), he doesn’t have many opportunities to back up his claims to royalty. Two tracks with fellow Lox cohorts Styles P. (on the nostalgic bar-trading duet “One More Step”) and Sheek Louch (on the dark lyrical contest “Come & Get Me”) are among the album’s best. Jada shines chronicling his label woes on the optimistic confessional “Things I’ve Been Through,” and alongside Ghostface and Raekwon (on “Cartel Gathering”) and Nas (on “What If”). On the moving elegy “Letter to B.I.G.” Jada seems to realize this isn’t the album his career needs: “I’m an impeccable lyricist/and with the right mechanics/I could take over be clear of this.” Hopefully this isn’t really Jada’s last kiss, then, because we’d still like to see him take over.