• 03Aug

    Black Rob, Game Tested, Streets Approved Album Review

    Black Rob has always been one of those MCs to depend on for some good old-fashioned, homegrown, New York City gutter street hop. He’s an artist that’s easily placed in the same vein as fellow hardcore disciples such as M.O.P, Mobb Deep, Tragedy Khadafi, Sean Price, Styles P, Black Moon and just about any other New York underground street dude, duo or group you can think of, as well as early 2000s contemporaries like Beanie Siegel and Jadakiss. Rob’s bread and butter, since his introduction over a decade ago, was just being true to himself. Even when he had his famous stint with then-Puff Daddy and Bad Boy Records, Rob stood apart from all of the dancing and shiny-suit mainstream posturing by giving fans the only thing he knew to give them…Black Rob: an unreserved, uncompromising Harlem delegate with the gritty flow that wasn’t about to trade in his truth and realness for pop celebrity.

    Now, Black Rob is looking to take his lane back on his first studio album since being released from prison, and has a new home in Duck Down Records. It’s been a few moons since the release of his Bad Boy debut Life Story, along with the signature mega-single that would come to define his career in “Whoa!” But after a minute away from the game, Rob has teamed up with Duck Down for his latest street symphony in Game Tested, Streets Approved.

    Things pop off with “Boiling Water”, an adversarial, aggressive, grimy slice of a hood anthem that Rob has clearly used to re-establish himself as a straight up, no holds barred, no B.S. Hip-Hop representative that’s looking to stake his much overdue claim to the underground throne in The City That Never Sleeps. While “Can’t Make It In NY” is an ode to the hometown that essentially held Rob down when everyone else may have written him off, it’s simultaneously an all-purpose guide aimed at young music industry lads on the rise with all of the glitz and glamor in their eyes, and how all of the lights can dim quickly if they don’t watch their step and stay true to themselves, all while riding over a thumping, powerfully foreboding and dangerously catchy head nodder.

    “Get Involved” keeps things moving and starts out as your standard braggadocio Hip-Hop record. But it’s good to hear Rob, even after doing his bid, is still able to have fun with the music and is in good spirits. On “Showin’ Up”, Rob gets just about as personal and introspective about his personal life as he’s ever done before. This listener can tell that it was difficult for him to let his guard down and spit about all the trials and tribulations that he’s faced, from label deals coming and going to an extended upstate stint, and much more. But he does a hell of a job of packing all that he’s repressed into a tale of redemption where life lessons are shared, and ultimately, Rob finds himself on the right side of his own history.

    Honestly, Black Rob has never been an MC that will dazzle you with his lyrical prowess, or that will leave you astounded with any stinging punch lines or searing wordplay. But what he brings to the table is being a straight up NY dude that has an uncanny ability to tell a story the way that it needs to be told without the filler or the fluff that, too many times, floods the market with too much of the unnecessary and the useless. He stays in his lane. He knows where his strengths are and how best to use them for the sake of fans that just want simple but effective Harlem Hip-Hop. Granted, Rob never really steps outside of his box when it comes to subject matter or skill. Then again, that’s what makes Game Tested, Streets Approved such a solid offering after such a long time away. Rob’s latest takes you back in time, but doesn’t sound outdated, tired or worn-out. There’s still a hunger that exists within Black Rob, still a need for his fans to know his skill level, and still a want to shut the mouths of the many naysayers that probably still exist in the music world. And he really lays it all on the line with this one.

    More standout tracks on Game Tested include the laid-back, piano–laden “Made Me a Man”, the heart-pounding “This Is What it Is”, the keep-your-eyes-and-ears-open double cross tale, “F— ‘Em”, the surprisingly energetic “Bumpin”, and album finale “No Fear” featuring Duck Down BHF Alum/Random Axe member Sean Price, who compliments Rob well over a track that serves as one final warning to any doubters.

    Unfortunately, Rob’s latest does come with it’s own set of pitfalls and missteps. The album could’ve definitely done without “Sand to the Beach”, a misplaced club joint that sounds like Rob trying to appeal to the poppy radio Top-40 demographic. But having an already over-used metaphor for a dude bringing his woman to the club on repeat comes off as, well, corny. And there’s a substantial letdown that comes right after Game Tested’s feel-good lead single “Celebration” with “Wanna Get Dough”, a joint that starts out interesting enough, but eventually grows bland, slow and lifeless.

    But in the end, Black Rob’s Game Tested, Streets Approved is a vigorous, powerfully sincere return effort by an artist that knows he still has something to prove in the rap game, and that failure is not an option. No, this album is no game-changer, can become repetitive at times, and might not offer anything new subject-wise. But with Hip-Hop making a bit of a U-turn back to some of its gutter roots in 2011, and many fans subsequently responding in the positive, Rob’s timing is right on the money.

    That Black Rob had such a long layoff from the game but still managed to put in the necessary time and effort to give his fans and supporters the album they’ve been waiting for is worthy of applause.

    Rating: 3.5 out of 5

    Follow Ron Grant on Twitter @RonGreezy

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