Cam’ron & Vado – Gunz N Butta
Compared to his less then enthusiastic performance on 2009’s Crime Pays, these days Cam’ron looks to be back in Killa Season form and you’d have to attribute at least some of his new found energy to his latest protege, Vado. The two had been dominating the blog/mixtape scene as The U.N. for the past couple of years and released a “retail mixtape” Hot In Here Vol. 1 (a few new tracks along with a bunch of CDQ versions of their most popular mixtape cuts) in 2010. Curiously the E1 release was to relatively little fan fare, with very little in the way of promotion, viral or otherwise. Still, Cam and Vado have continued to have the streets buzzing in 2011, as they prepare for their first official album, Gunz N Butta.
The chemistry between the two Harlemites is reminiscent of the early music Cam’ron made with The Diplomats. Cam fills his familiar role, the eccentric OG with a sinister wit who’s seen it all, done it all and his laidback confidence is the perfect foil for Vado, who plays the role of the young gunner, brash, cocky and ready to put in work for the “Big Homie” (no RR). On “American Greed”, Vado anchors the track with a hook that frames the song with a thin concept: “American greed, shit’ll turn you into the worst type/Locked like Madoff, die like Kirk Wright/You get more dirty when your collar and shirt white/Caviar dreams Rose’ wishes, the thirst life…” which allows both MC’s to do what they do best. Pop shit. Cam scores with lines like: “And if you see me in the Louie in the coupe blowin’ Ooh Wee, right hand should salute me/Look here, you Sam Bowie, scram Scooby, tan Gucci, play your part, this Cam movie”‘. Being the cynic l am, I’d say one could view this song as a shot at Jim Jones and Juelz Santana (who still weren’t on good terms with Cam when the bulk of these tracks were recorded), but in light of their recent reconciliation, it’s mostly irrelevant at this point, even if I was right. Songs with harder edges like the solemn street screed “Breathe” and the ode to the frontin’ ass cat, “Stop It 5” are balanced by a trio of club songs toward the end of the album. While it’s easy to dismiss joints like “Hey Muma” and “Speakin’ In Tungs” what makes them noteworthy is that while they will work in a club, they don’t pander to gender and the content is very far from what passes for “club friendly” by today’s standards. Cam and Vado never dumb it down and I think Vado’s reverence for 90’s Hip-Hop together with Cam’s veteran experience (having actually been there in the 90’s) make for an album that recalls an era when New York had an identity of it’s own and rarely looked outside of the 5 boroughs for inspiration.
There’s a relentlessness in Cam and Vado’s approach from the very first track but the third ingredient that makes tandem work is 21 year old prodigy, araabMUZIK, who produces a bulk of the albums tracks. The Providence R.I. beat maker is largely known for blacking out on the MPC but he’s been lacing Cam with his hyperactive production since Crime Pays and has basically laid the sonic foundation Cam’s recent resurgence is built on. The instrumentals behind dark songs like “Killa” (which could easily pass for the theme to the next Friday The 13th installment) and the Disco inspired “Lights, Cameras, Action” show Araab’s increasing range but it’s his ability to channel Swizz Beatz circa 1998 that drives some of the albums best moments. Seriously, joints like the frenetic club banger “We All Up In Here” and the hypnotic head nodder, “I Luv U” sound like they were found on an old DAT of lost We Are The Streets instrumentals.
“Speakin’ In Tungs” has appeared on mixtapes, the aforementioned Hot In Here Vol. 1 and Vado’s Slime Flu album, so although it’s a certified club banger, it’s inclusion here just seems lazy. Similarly, “Stop It 5”. “Monster Muzik” and “Fuck-A-Freestyle” have all shown up other places and while all of these songs fit into the album thematically, they still comes off as filler. The whole vibe of the “album”, from the low budget production values to the redundant bars, feels more like a mixtape then retail release. This could have easily been the 3rd installment of Cam’s Best Of All Bosses series wit DJ Drama or Hot In Here Vol. 2 (Which is probably a more honest title for the project as it seems most of the material here was recorded during the same timeframe). This isn’t to say that mixtape aesthetic doesn’t have it’s own unique appeal and there are a bunch of songs here that are strong enough to be on an actual album instead of existing in a zipfile floating out in the endless ether that is the internet, but as a whole, this isn’t the project that’s gonna put Cam back in the spotlight or launch Vado to Hip-Hop stardom. DipSet enthusiasts should look at Gunz N Butta as a showcase for the duo’s chemistry and a preview of what they will be bringing on their upcoming solo projects (I have hope for Vado. Cam’ron seems content to pocket his album budget and cop tracks from araabMUZIK and Skitzo for the low). What the duo have done is something that’s rare from New York artists. Like Lloyd Bank’s HFM2 and Raekwon’s OB4CLII, Cam and Vado have delivered a project that strictly caters to fans of New York Hip-Hop. No Rick Ross or Waka Flocka features, no Lex Luget beat, no auto-tuned hooks, no concessions to radio or MTV, Gunz N Butta is uncompromisingly New York. This is project elevator smellin’ like a urinal cake, hustlin’ 5 blocks away from the precinct music. This is that posted in front of the Apollo with your homies tryin’ to bag every fat ass that walks by music. That Club Speed, first floor, in the crowd wildin’ off Coco Loso, fuckin up your new kicks music. So in that respect, they’ve succeeded. Gunz N Butta isn’t the album that’ll turn Hip-Hop’s eyes back to the East Coast, but it’s a strong, albeit small step in the right direction.