All Bets Off

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Well now that the Illini have fallen to the Tar Heels I’ll give “killinois” a reason to be proud: the new Juice album All Bets Off is pretty hot. And I’m no big fan of Juice, and I have a pretty love-hate thing with Chicago hip-hop in general, but there are some nice moments on this thing. When I was in the city over break it was a pretty big deal, got a lot of press and attention. In an interview for UR, which is some random Chicago events paper, Juice mentioned how he wanted to start appealing to a wider audience. Well good, I thought, he’s in his 30s now its about time. So this is his step away from super-insular world of the underground, MC battles and preaching to the choir; it is an attempt to make some songs (a novel idea) and sometimes it succeeds. There’s some Kanye-lite production work here for most of it, which isn’t always as bad as it sounds. The only thing I don’t like is when he gets all Common on us.

Like, I dig the new Common single, but its another example of what seems like an uninteresting version of Chuck D’s “CNN of the Streets.” Common raps about life in the ghetto all third-person style, and sometimes it works but on the whole these days it doesn’t really engage me any more. I don’t feel involved with the stories, and it sounds like my mom warning me when i was ten about the dangers of the city or some shit. At this point, it seems like most of my favorite rappers are a part of the stories they tell, gonzo style, referring to specific places and times and people and experiences, rather than omniscent narrators who often sound like they’re narrating to some external audience about generic ghetto number 12. Anyway long story short Juice does that sometimes and its annoying, but when he doesn’t there are some really nice results.

Juice feat. Overall – “Power”
“Its like 3:30 in the morning…we’re sitting here talking about money and power.” This track’s all about how Juice realized he wants to make moves and make money, with a smooth funk beat that sounds like a triumphant new approach to music. “Now til my eyes are closed and my casket drops, I swear never again will I rap for props…” Not that dude is compromising, he wants to make hot tracks, make it big, he’s still a hot rapper, he just realized that he wants to reach more people. When the elder statesmen of Chicago’s old conservative underground guard says you’ve gotta switch the game up, people should pay attention. At the end: “I’ma say one thing before we get outta here. If you niggaz is rapping for free you niggaz is stupider than a motherfucker. What the fuck are you niggaz rappin’ for not to sell records? Get your music up. Hire some fucking musicians. J’ll ghostwrite ya whole album for a couple grand. This way we’ll have Chicago lookin’ hot.”

Juice – “What Up”
And here’s probably my favorite track on the album. Abrasive and grimey, a crowd roaring for the chorus, shout-outs to every hood in the city, east chicago, southeast side, 69th, 55th, 63rd, 95th, 87th, 26th, California, North side, south side, west side, cabrini green, dearborn, ida b’s, Humboldt park, Logan Square, even Sheridan via Howard, Morse and Jarvis. Chicago Heights, Pilsen, Henry Horners, Robert Taylor, North side, south side, west side. Chi-town, chi-town.

Buy it here.

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