Friday, January 16, 2015

The AZ Project: Gifted Visualiza





 


Yes indeed, the above classic gave birth to a career for the MC known as AZ, and his verse from that one song remains his most defining verse ever. By somewhat popular demand, we have arrived at the AZ project! Honestly, this particular project wasn't planned at all, but I have to give it up for the homie Charles (aka Iron Flag) who sort of pushed me to do this project. After talking about AZ's discography recently (as of this initial posting), the idea came to me just like that and if there's an MC whose discography deserves a little more light than it receives, it's AZ. With a career spanning almost 21 years, AZ has been putting in true work, but at the same time that work has mostly been unrecognized (and somewhat unappreciated) and this project, highlighting all of his solo albums from his 1995 debut "Doe Or Die" to 2008's "Undeniable", will not only be a dedication along with showing mad love and appreciation for his work, but it'll continue to show why he's one of the most underrated MCs perhaps of all time. This promises to be a nice project, so without further delay, let's get it going!!!




Release date: October 10, 1995


This is the AZ album that has the most nostalgic vibe with me. It's been part of my collection basically since it's release (I copped the cassette in late 95 then ended up getting the CD several months later).



1. "Intro" 
Co-Produced by Lunatic Mind and AZ
When I first heard this intro, I remember getting really hyped for the rest of the album. I even recall a time when I rewound it back a few times before I even got into the next song, lol. When an INTRO does that, you know you have the makings of a great album ahead. And with that said.....

2. "Uncut Raw"
Produced by LOOSE, Co-Produced by AZ

 ".....Fake ass niggas will never know/Cause my method's perfected, I'm movin sceptic and never show"

"So exhale cause if I don't live to tell/Then fuck it, farewell, I'll see the rest of y'all niggas in hell"


I could not stop bobbin my head to this when I first heard it. Talk about a fast paced banger, it's almost as if he was laying quietly in the cut after "Life's A Bitch" and this was an immediate follow up to that. The flow during each verse is so clear cut and the way he keeps up with the beat is nothing short of awesome.
*5 out of 5*

 


3. "Gimme Your's" 
Additional Vocals by Nas
Produced by Pete Rock

'Yo, it's hard to show resistance when money gettin niggas/Need my assistance to stack figures, beyond non-existence/Fuck keepin my distance, cause being poor produced persistence/Plus pleas, 100 Gs will have me blockin out a jail sentence"


Wow, loyal reader, rap those lines over again! The way he starts this song is incredible and you can tell he had a way with words, almost making you believe it's not what you say but HOW you say it. 


"So in God I trust, I lust for a 850 deluxe/And until I touch a million plus, ain't much to discuss/Diamonds and double digits, Gianni Versace down wit lizards/It's realism so I visualize it to live it"


Man, the wordplay is NICE as hell. Also, in something that'll be touched on at various points throughout the rest of the album, the lust for the finer things in life (mad money, nice clothes, fine jewelry, etc) is all but apparent here, which is fine in my book (who doesn't want nice things). He's not saying "gimme your's" in a sense that he's going to go all out and take what you have, but he's saying he wants what you have plus more. Outstanding. Oh yeah, it was a rare thing at the time to see Nas on "hook duty", but his contribution adds to another great song.
*5 out of 5*
 
 


4. "Ho Happy Jackie"
Produced by Buckwild

"Whoever thought that that sweet thing, born model material/That hated hot cereal could grow to be a high silly ho"


The above opening line describes this very descriptive song about Ms. Jackie, a young lady corrupted by the allure of rich men (single or married), materialistic possessions, and all things related. AZ talks about how she's essentially out for one person and one person only: herself. She'll do whatever it takes to make sure she's taken care, having no regard to who she hurts in the process. Whether this was a true story or not, women like this were out there, even in 95, and I wouldn't be surprised if women like this are still running rampant, if you will, in 2015. The closing of this song sees her get a taste of her own medicine. She tries to get at AZ, and while he seems down at first ("I'm sayin whatever baby, dinner gonna lead to breakfast, if it's on you it's all good", he says), he basically rebuffs her at the last minute when he apparently notices that something's not right with the entire thing. She even offers him oral sex (the way she did it was hilarious), but he was having none of it. (Note to the ladies reading this: Listen closely to this song because if you're a self respecting woman of any age and race, you don't want to be Jackie.)
*5 out of 5*
 
 


5. "Rather Unique"
Produced by Pete Rock

"You can try to blind me, analyze but can't define me/My mind's devine, heavily entwined wit Gandhi's"


Man, those lines above don't even begin to scrape the surface of how lyrically sharp and awesome this apply titled song is, complete with a well-timed Big Daddy Kane sample courtesy of another classic in "Just Rhymin' Wit' Biz". This is without a doubt one of his finest songs ever, nuff said.
*5 out of 5*

"Raps demolishing certified the way I style it/My wordplay blaze wit the rays of ultraviolet"

   


6. "I Feel For You"
Background Vocals by Erica Scott
Produced by Amar, Co-Produced by AZ

It seemed as if AZ was going for some type of story to start this off, but it ended up being just another song. I'm not saying that in a bad way at all, but what made this one work well was the continued nice lyricism throughout.
*4 out of 5*

7. "Sugar Hill"
Featuring Miss Jones
Produced by L.E.S.



In a word, classic. This is one of the most laid back, smoothest songs you'll ever hear. I recall some heads back in the day thinking this was a little too commercial. Even as the album's first/lead single, I respectively disagree(d). Just about everything worked SO well with this song; the lyrics, the beat, the Miss Jones led hook, the continued lust for the finer things in life, and of course a generated buzz for himself and this album. 
*5 out of 5*
 


8. "Mo Money Mo Murder (Homicide)"
Featuring Nas
Produced by D/R Period

"My caliber, got me thinkin on a higher algebra/See me I'm just as foul as ya, but you ain't got no style in ya" -AZ


The one thing this song has in common with "Life's A Bitch" is the ever so present, dynamic chemistry between AZ and Nas being on full display, because other than that, both songs are so different from each other. This one features the continuation of Nas Escobar as he links up with AZ Sosa, leading to the birth of The Firm. More GREAT stuff here.
*5 out of 5*
 


9. "Born Alone, Die Alone"
Co-Produced by Lunatic Minds and AZ
After the previous song, this was more or less a VERY brief interlude.

10. "Doe Or Die"
Produced by N.O. Joe

AZ flowed SO well over N.O. Joe's production, the latter famous for his contributions with Rap-A-Lot Records. It's clear that AZ wants it all and he explains it so thoroughly on this appropriately titled, title track.
*5 out of 5*
 


11. "We Can't Win"
Featuring Amar
Produced by Amar, Co-Produced by AZ

I actually never realized how deep this song was until now and it's more relevant today than it was in 95. They mostly talk about the negative influences of our society at the time, as well as the Illuminati, something that's still talked about today. Good song.
*4 out of 5*

12. "Your World Don't Stop"
Originally produced by Spunk Biggs (remixed by Ski)

I gotta give mad credit to Stillblade and AirSanchez at www.genius.com, both of whom accurately describe this excellent song as AZ coming from "the perspective of a convict trying to lay low and make his way out of prison alive..... the track also speaks on the evils and injustices of the prison system and relates to the hardships that go through on a day to day basis."
*5 out of 5*
 
 


13. "Sugar Hill (Remix)"
Produced by L.E.S.

Although this one has the same lyrics as the original and a nicely worked Stylistics sample courtesy of "People Make The World Go Round", it doesn't pack the same smooth punch as its predecessor. It's still very good though.
*4 out of 5* 



Lets talk about the respectable success of this album. It peaked at #15 on the Billboard 200 and #1 on the U.S. Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart, and the "Sugar Hill" single was so successful that it went Gold. It still puzzles me a bit to know that AZ's most well known single went Gold, but the album itself, in addition to the chart success, never hit Gold or better (which the album deserved), and I know the answer. While the promotion of the album could've been better than what it was in retrospect, even with it's October 10th release date in 95, keep in mind that 1995 (say it with me) was a STACKED year, so unfortunately it was slept on when it came out. Not only is "Doe Or Die" AZ's best album, it's one of the most underrated albums you'll ever hear and one hell of a debut. AZ's career would continue from here, but sadly, the buzz that surrounded him from 94-96 would fade with each subsequent album. 5 stars for this classic.




This portion is taken directly from my revisit of this album, posted on May 5, 2014.

Release date: April 7, 1998


 This would actually mark the first time I've reviewed an AZ album, but before I get to his 1998 sophomore album, a few words if I may. As the sole guest star on Nas' classic "Illmatic", AZ had made a name for himself right out the gate with his memorable verse on "Life's A Bitch", which would ultimately lead to his debut album, 1995's "Doe Or Die" (also due for a revisit). While the album was quite excellent and classics such as "Sugar Hill" and "Gimme Your's" made a respectable amount of noise, especially the former, the album fell a little bit under the radar, and you can attribute that to it being released in the STACKED year of 1995. All things considered, that was best time to release the album, because it likely would've fell even more under the radar had it came out in 1996, another STACKED year. After "Doe Or Die", AZ's name was definitely out there, most notably an appearance in Jay-Z's "Dead Presidents" video and another memorable guest appearance on Nas' "Affirmative Action". Speaking of "Affirmative Action", that would ultimately lead to "The Firm" album in 1997, which was covered on the blog, and that brings us to "Pieces Of A Man". 

I remember anticipating this album a lot prior to its release, mostly because I was a fan of his since 94 and I was curious to see what he would bring after his debut. Also, the following song was supposed to be the album's first single, but for some reason it was not included on the album (my guess is probably due to a sample clearance issue):
 
 

And from here, we head into the "Pieces Of A Man" album.



1. "New Life (Album Intro)"
Produced by Goldfinga and Gucci Jones

"Play the game for my people stay in charge of your dreams/Keep your vision focused, get wise, and largen your cream"

"Clocks never stop, it's all a race to the top/Tryin to freeze time, that's why I ice the face on my watch"

AZ was clearly heading in a new artistic direction, and this BRIEF but DOPE intro confirms it in a big way.  

2. "I'm Known"
 Produced by Goldfinga and Gucci Jones

This apply titled, fast paced, and dope. To this day, I still wish it was a little bit longer, but what we got is VERY good.
*4 out of 5*

3. "How Ya Livin"
Featuring Nas
Produced by LES
 
"Cash rules on my arm, I flash jewels and tattoos/You can look but don't touch, we bad news" -Nas


LES beautifully reworking of Glenn Jones' "Show Me" for AZ and Nas to flex their great chemistry over, and as you would expect, it's excellent all around, best song on the album. Think about this for a second: with hindsight being 20/20, I feel it would've been much better had we got a Nas &AZ collaboration album in 1997 instead of the Firm project. IMAGINE how tight that would've been, plus the timing was perfect for it.
*5 out of 5*
 

4. "Trading Places"
Produced bu Poke & Tone (Track Masters)

"Trading places, want a piece of the pie
Good guy, bad guy we each gotta die
It's all a game, some will make the Hall Of Fame
While others will die in vain tryin to front for a name"


Dope song over an equally dope beat provided by the hot (at the time) Track Masters.
*4 out of 5*

"Manasia (Interlude)"
Like you need to ask what type of interlude this is, lol.


5."What's The Deal"
Produced by Poke & Tone

This was a smooth joint, strictly for the ladies. Note to aspiring artists: this is a good example of HOW to make a song if you're looking to bring in female fans.
*4 out of 5*

"Half-A-Mil (Interlude)"
After blessing "Throw Ya Gunz" with AZ on the Firm album, his protege Half-A-Mil is showcased BRIEFLY on this interlude, leading into.....

6. "Love Is Love"
Featuring Nature and Half-A-Mil
Produced By: Goldfinga and Gucci Jones, Co-Produced By AZ

Pretty good collaboration right here. It also did not wear out its welcome hitting the 5 minute mark.
*4 out of 5*

7. "The Pay Back"
Produced by Goldfinga and Gucci Jones

AZ brings out the gangster side, almost in a storytelling vibe. The samples from the "Hoodlum" movie, my 10th favorite movie of all time, were a good touch.
*4 out of 5*

8. "Just Because"
Produced by LES

In an issue of The Source magazine in 98 (sometime between March and May), they reviewed this album (giving it a low 3 or 3.5 I believe) and when talking about this song, the reviewer stated that if it was played it the club, people would just "hold up the walls" and not really give it the time of day, smh+lol. While I wouldn't go that far, it's a decent song, aimed squarely at a spot on the radio which it didn't get.
*3 out of 5*

9. "SOSA"
Produced by Poke & Tone

Everyone knew that AZ borrowed this nickname from the character of the same name in the "Scarface" movie, but he would later reveal that for him it stood for "Save Our Streets AZ". Either way, I couldn't wait to hear this one, largely because of the "connection" with my #1 favorite movie of all time, and it's dope of course.
*4 out of 5*

10. "It's A Boy Thing"
Produced by Poke & Tone

Appropriately titled, decent song, nothing more or less.
*3 out of 5*

11. "Pieces Of A (Black) Man"
Produced by Poke & Tone

This is not quite the introspective song you may think it is, which is no knock on it. As the title track, it's a standout on its own.
*4 out of 5*

12. "Last Dayz"
Featuring Monifah
Produced by Kenny Smoove, Co-Produced by Darryl "88" Young

Life, in and outside of the struggle, was real back in 98 and that's certainly the case today in 2014. GOOD stuff here.
*4 out of 5*

13. "Whatever Happened (The Birth)"
Featuring and produced by The RZA

"Whatever happened to the realness from back in the past?" 

Regarding hip hop in it's current state, I can ask this question over and over again, but other than that, AZ and RZA drop a few gems here, definitely another one of the album's highlights.
*4 out of 5*

14. "Trial Of The Century"
Additional Vocals by Foxy Brown and Panama PI
Produced by Nashiem Myrick

If this song was heading towards an epic or something, it really missed the mark (complete with a "shake your head" worthy hook). This ultimately sound like a song that was intended for the Firm album but got cut for obvious reasons.
*2.5 out of 5*

15. "Betcha Don't Know"
Additional Vocals By: Keanna Henson
Produced by Tony Dofat

Much like "What's The Deal", this was a smooth track, not necessarily for the ladies this time around. It was a nice way to close the album.
*4 out of 5*



For starters, I almost went back and forth on the rating, but I settled in with a strong 4 star rating. It's a little more fast paced than "Doe Or Die", but overall it's not better. In my opinion, it's his most underrated album, and unfortunately it was highly slept on when it came out in 1998. Why? Well, certainly a lack of hype and promotion had its effects (as compared to his debut), plus "Hey AZ" was derailed as the album's first single and it really could've been as big as "Sugar Hill" if not bigger. He wouldn't release another album until 2001's "9 Lives", which is also likely due for a revisit. The excellent "Pieces Of A Man", much like the rest of his body of work, continuously confirms why he remains one of hip hop's most underrated MCs ever.   


[Prior to his 3rd album, "9 Lives", AZ was a free agent after being released from Noo Trybe Records. In 2000, a compilation titled "S.O.S.A. (Save Our Streets AZ)"  was released , with most of the songs from that comp being included on the aforementioned "9 Lives" album.]





Release date: June 12, 2001



1. "Intro"
Produced by Big Shy
If I were to rate this brief intro, I would give it a "4 out of 5". AZ lets the listeners know he's back with a vengeance on this bass driven track.

2. "What Cha Day About"
Produced by Quran Goodman
This was certainly a laid back, apply titled song. The 4:03 seconds seemed to ease right on by while listening to this.
*4 out of 5*

3. "I Don't Give A F**k"
Produced by Chop D.I.E.S.E.L.

"I play different, I put in work, stay consistent"


Another apply titled song which finds the usually mellow, laid back AZ showing a (slightly) more aggressive side than we're accustomed to on this DJ Premier esque track.
*4 out of 5* 
4. "At Night"
Produced by Chop D.I.E.S.E.L.

AZ continues to bring an aggressive style over another DJ Premier esque track provided by Chop D.I.E.S.E.L.
*4 out of 5*
5. "AZ's Back"
Produced by Tank

This joint reminded me of Nas' "Big Things". While this one is lyrically better than the Nas' song, for some reason I always thought the "double timed" flow never suited the both of them, which is probably why they didn't use it as much. To his credit, AZ still came smooth with it on this Timbaland esque track. (The producers thus far sure did their homework didn't they, lol?)
*4 out of 5*

6. "Problems"
Produced by Chop D.I.E.S.E.L.

El DeBarge's "All This Love" is worked NICELY for this tight song. Even the best people, if you will, have their problems.
*5 out of 5*



7. "Everything's Everything"
Featuring Joe
Produced By Eddie F and Darren Lighty

Don't get your hopes up too high ladies, lol. This Joe assisted song is not "the joint for the ladies". I may be overrating it a bit, but I really enjoyed this one, especially the pretty good chemistry AZ and Joe had.
*5 out of 5*


8. "That's Real"
Featuring Beanie Sigel
Produced by Bink Dog

Quiet Money and The ROC linked up for this Bink Dog produced joint (another underrated producer). Oh yeah, I gotta speak on something before we proceed. I'm a little surprised that AZ and Jay-Z have never done a song together. The CLOSEST we ever got to something happening was when AZ appeared in Jay's "Dead Presidents" video, but that was about it and I'm not sure why a collabo never happened. I feel Jay would've been a good addition to this one.
*4 out of 5*

9. "What Ya'll N****s Want"
Featuring Foxy Brown
Produced by Chop D.I.E.S.E.L.

AZ definitely has chemistry with his guests, and regarding Foxy, it was not a surprise considering their previous work together, mostly on the Firm album.
*4 out of 5*

10. "Let's Toast"
Produced by Mohogany

This is another good song, but the beat sounds EXACTLY like M.O.P.'s "Warriorz". Check it out for yourself.
*4 out of 5*




11. "How Many Wanna"
Featuring Amil
Produced by Miller Time

Now this is low point on an otherwise PRETTY good album. This is your typical "song for the ladies" and usually with a song like this, you wouldn't find an Amil appearance not too far behind.
*3 out of 5*

12. "Love Me"
Produced by D/R Period

AZ taps into his introspective side for a bit on this one, another good song.
*4 out of 5*

13. "Quiet Money TBS"
Produced by Ty Fyffe

Even though AZ comes through with a verse, this was more or less a showcase for some then new (and unnamed) artists coming out on his Quiet Money label.
*4 out of 5*

14. "Outro"
Produced by Big Shy   
Man, this beat was too dope for an outro, plus AZ didn't really say much of note to close the album.


 
Overall, a damn good album here, and again, it was slept on when it came out in 2001, even though said year wasn't much a stacked one. AZ was still lyrically sharp on the mic over some very good production. What more can you ask for? (It also moved a respectable 435,000 units.)


4 STARS





Release date: June 11, 2002



1. "Once Again"
Produced by DR Period

After showing love to Nas, the late Notorious BIG, and the respective coasts, AZ wastes no time returning with his smooth, eloquent flow on this very good opener, showing he hadn't lost a step since the last album.
*4 out of 5* 

2. "A-1 Performance"
Additional Vocals by Makeba Riddick
Produced by Portiay

"Critically acclaimed, verbally I'm sickly insane/Officially I remain the Ripley's of the game"


Those opening lines as well as the rest of this song is smooth like butter, or should I say like a butterknife going through a stick of butter, lol. Either way, AZ indeed delivers an "A-1 performance" like the title suggests, couldn't find any flaws even if I tried.
*5 out of 5*

"The earth and the moon is one, I'm the sun/So all competition is none, get ya guns"



3. "Wanna Be There"
Additional Vocals by Chimere Scott
Produced by Chop D.I.E.S.E.L.

Nice song right here, featuring glimpse of nostalgia and a sense of controlled confidence throughout.
*4 out of 5*

4. "Take It Off"
Additional Vocals by Shelene Thomas
Produced by L.E.S.

A few things are apparent about this song, namely it's a nice joint for the ladies and it's tailor made to bump in strip clubs. Speaking of strip clubs, that's exactly where AZ had filmed a video (kinda X-rated too) for this song. I recall seeing this video one time in 2002 on an episode of "B.E.T. Uncut" (any of you remember that show). 
*4 out of 5*

5. "The Essence"
Featuring Nas
Produced by Baby Paul and Mike Risko

After revisiting this classic again, I just shook my head, not because of how laid back and dope it is (which it certainly is), but because we may never get that long awaited Nas and AZ album. This joint right here, featuring a NICE sample courtesy of the Mary Jane Girls' "Musical Love", picks up right where "The Flyest" left off, featuring some incredible back and forth chemistry between the two MCs. Best song on this album? I tend to think so.
*5 out of 5*



6. "Hands In The Air"
Featuring D.J. Rogers, Jr.
Produced by Miller Time

"I'm like the spring in a .45 Colt pistol/Know the initials I gleam like a coke crystal"


This wouldn't have been out of place on the radio had it been given that shine, no doubt. Very good stuff here.
*4 out of 5*

7. "Fan Mail"
Produced by Miller Time

AZ takes time and goes through some fan mail, specifically the first being from a man that's locked down facing life in prison, and the second from a woman, Camille, who has been a fan since "Sugar Hill". Simple yet very effective. Artists should do more of this these days.
*5 out of 5*



8. "Paradise (Life)"
Produced by Miller Time

"This is life", the echoing of that as during the hook tells you all you need to know about this song, another good one on this album. 
*4 out of 5*

9. "Take Care Of Me"
Produced by Precision

Another nice and smooth one for the ladies on this Trackmasters esque song.
*4 out of 5*

10. "I'm Back"
Featuring El Shaber
Produced by Buckwild 

Eddie Kendricks' "Loving You the Second Time Around" was supremely worked for this banger, which I considered the lead single on the album. I remember seeing the "Training Day" influenced video back in 2002 (with AZ playing Denzel's "Alonzo" character), only one time though, lol. 
*5 out of 5*



11. "Hustler"
Featuring Trav and Animal
Produced by Chop D.I.E.S.E.L.

Yes, when you look at the title, it would suggest something we have all heard before, but I always say when songs like this are done right, it's a good thing, which is what we get here, complete with ANOTHER well worked sample in the form of The Temptations' "I'm A Bachelor" and good verses. Not much was heard from Trav and Animal after this, leading me to believe their verses were one shot deals.
*4 out of 5*

12. "Re-birth"
Produced by Buckwild

It was interesting to place this dope song towards the end. It wasn't busy, but a few things were going on while I was listening, including a Nas like flow throughout the song (check out another song with them two called "Serious") over a beat straight out of Black Rob's "Life Story" album (think of "I Dare You").

13. "Aziatic (Outro)"
Produced by Chop D.I.E.S.E.L.
The game continues on.

*14. "Doing Me"
Produced by Big Joe
A pretty good, apply titled bonus track to close the album.
*4 out of 5*



This album was MUCH better than I remembered. AZ continued to fire on all cylinders, seemingly getting better with each album, aging like fine wine in the process. "Aziatic" might've been slept on at the time, but it still holds up well today, an excellent album overall.


4.5 STARS





Release date: September 6, 2005


This album was recorded after "Final Call", but due to constant push backs from Koch Records (two months specifically), AZ refused to release the album.






1. "So Sincere"
Produced by Heatmakerz
This 1:58 opener was a solid way to begin the album, featuring the signature Heatmakerz sound.
*4 out of 5*


2. "Never Change"
Produced by Heatmakerz

Although the "never change" theme is obviously present here, AZ does deliver a story. He links up with a long time friend in the first verse, informed of him being shot in the second verse, and gives his own eulogy in the last verse. Very good song.
*4 out of 5*

3. "New York"
Featuring Raekwon and Ghostface Killah
Produced by Emile

Featuring some dope scratches by DJ Premier and a dope Emile beat (sample courtesy of "Gangbusters", a mix by DJ Grand Wizard Theodore), AZ links up with Rae and Ghost to do one of the things they do well: talk about the state of New York and how it all goes down. AZ always had very good chemistry with the Wu, no matter who he collaborated with.
*4 out of 5*

4. "Can't Stop"
Produced by Frado

"None of us just eatin, maintain the strains/The streets is just the streets, when it rain it rain"


Those last two lines of this song kinda sum it up well, and at the same time it almost comes off like two extensions of the previous two songs based on the story being told. Can't stop, won't stop.
*4 out of 5*

5. "Still Alive"
Additional Vocals by Noe
Produced by Vinny Idol

This is an appropriately titled, good song.
*4 out of 5*

6. "AZ's Chillin"
Produced by Fizzy Womack

I guarantee you most are not aware of this one. This is AZ's update/remake of Audio Two's classic "Top Billin" and it's just as dope in my view. AZ's flow over the simple yet effective beat provided by M.O.P.'s Lil Fame (also known as Fizzy Womack of course) is really superb in bringing a throwback vibe with a 2005 twist.
*5 out of 5*

 


7. "City Of Gods"
Produced by Disco D

This is what I would call "vintage AZ" on this laid back cut. Also, in a nice touch, I like his nod to Eric B. & Rakim's "Let The Rhythm Hit Em" in the verse. The more I thought about it, I feel this song was ready made for a Jay-Z guest appearance.
*4 out of 5*

8. "Street Life"
Featuring Half-A-Mill and Begetz
Produced by J Hen 

Yes, the title would suggest it's nothing we haven't heard before. That is true in terms of this song, but like I always say, if done right it can still make for a good song, which is what we got. RIP to Half-A-Mill.
*4 out of 5*

9. "Bedtime Story"
Featuring Baby Paul and Jimi Kendrixx

AZ has a few stories for his son prior to bedtime. It interestingly fades out during the second verse though.
*3 out of 5*

10. "The Come Up"
Produced by DJ Premier

For the first time pairing of AZ and Premo, this was pretty good, featuring the usual nice lyrics from AZ over the unmistakable "boom bap" sound of Premo. 
*5 out of 5*



11. "Envious"
Featuring Bounty Killer
Produced by MoSS

This was a very good, reggae infused joint, nothing more or less.
*4 out of 5* 

12. "A.W.O.L."
Produced by Baby Paul/BpZy and Mike Risko

Figuratively, AZ was going out in a blaze of glory based on this solid closer. It wouldn't be the last we heard from him though.
*4 out of 5*

*13. "Live Wire"
Produced by Buckwild

This is the first of three bonus tracks that were from the unreleased "Final Call" album according to the album insert. Over a dope Buckwild, AZ comes aggressively with lyrical gunplay.
*4 out of 5*

*14. "Magic Hour"
Featuring CL Smooth
Produced by Tone Mason

Tone Mason's beat, which is very good, can be best described as a cross between DJ Premier and the Heatmakerz. And for another first time collaboration in the form of AZ and CL Smooth, this was pretty damn good. AZ's verse was good, but man I feel CL stole the show with his closing verse.
*4 out of 5*

*15. "The Truth"
Produced by DJ Absolut and Young Calvin

AZ cements his status and legacy with this song, another very good one. The truth indeed.
*3.5 out of 5*



Well, AZ truly did it again with another solid release. It's not on the level of the previous album, "Aziatic", but like I said it's still solid overall. He wouldn't go "awol" even in hip hop terms, as he would return one year later with the next album that'll be covered.


4 STARS





Release date: November 7, 2006




1. "I Am The Truth"
Produced by Fizzy Womack

So consistent indeed. This apply titled opener sets the right tone for the album.
*4 out of 5*

2. "Sit 'Em Back Slow"
Featuring M.O.P.
Produced by Face Defeat and Fizzy Womack

First off, the way Fizzy and Face cut up and chop Rick James' classic "Mary Jane" is nothing short of dope. Secondly, if you thought AZ was too smooth to be on the same track as the aggressive M.O.P., you couldn't have been more wrong. All three MCs display some fine chemistry on this banger.
*5 out of 5*



3. "Get High"
Produced by Emile

I could see the smokers liking this fast paced joint, even if AZ is mostly talking about everything he has, in such convincing fashion I might add.
*4 out of 5*

4. "Make Me"
Featuring Fresh
Produced by Emile

Fresh got a decent amount of shine here and he did a good job with his verses, even though the song seemingly ends before he was ready, lol. More good stuff here.
*4 out of 5*

5. "Games"
Featuring Samson
Produced by Bob Perry and Arnold Mischkulnig

This Chuckie Booker inspired song, in terms of the hook ("Games"), comes off as another song that addresses the hate that most MCs receive. Decent, nothing more.
*3 out of 5*

6. "Rise And Fall"
Featuring Rapper Big Pooh and Phonte
Produced by J. Cardim

Now this is a banger right here, even if the entire mood and vibe of the song would suggest otherwise, and it certainly gives "Sit Em Back Slow" a run for its money as far as the best song on this album goes. I simply LIKE this one, which finds Rapper Big Pooh and Phonte, formerly of Little Brother, putting in VERY good performances along side AZ.
*5 out of 5*



7. "Animal"
Produced by Statik Selektah

AZ has definitely been putting work in since '94. This song shows him continuing to cement his status in hip hop.
*4 out of 5*

8. "Doing That!"
Featuring Jha Jha
Produced by Fizzy Womack

Everything about this one just screamed radio play. An ok song overall.
*3 out of 5*

9. "This Is What I Do"
Produced by J. Cardim

As a form of a dedication to hip hop, this was fine for what it was.
*4 out of 5*

10. "The Format"
Produced by DJ Premier

This one doesn't pack the same punch as "The Come Up", but it's still very good.
*4 out of 5*

11. "Vendetta"
Featuring Fresh and Ralo
Produced by J. Cardim

Another good song assisted by Fresh. The beat will take you back to Jadakiss' "It's Time I See You" and Raekwon's "Canal Street", respectively.
*3.5 out of5*

12. "Game Of Life"
Produced By Emile

"Ain't no winners in this game of life
Some will claim that they came here twice (My God)
My advice, never change your stripes
Cause ain't no winners in this game of life"


The hook above does a good job in summing up this song in a nutshell, plus AZ gets a bit introspective here too.
*4 out of 5*

13. "Royal Salute"
Produced by Emile

This closer was a celebration for another album in the books for AZ, as well as letting us know he wasn't done yet and there's more to come (I think that was the case with the closing song on 1 or 2 of his previous albums). This song is also notable for the justified jab at 50 Cent ("So 50 it's only a run, enjoy this here/Matter of fact, you ain't done, enjoy this here"), and I gotta comment on that. On 50's "What If" from the "Get Rich Or Die Tryin" soundtrack, which was a good song, out of nowhere he says "if I put out bullshit joints like AZ". Now, I'm a 50 fan, but this was complete arrogance on his part (I continue to shake my head at that line whenever I listen to this song), mainly because prior to this I don't recall AZ ever speaking about 50, on or off the record. Overall, two things are clear to me: 1) AZ's discography is leaps and bounds way ahead of 50's in terms of quality, and 2) AZ is still putting in work with respectable guest appearances as we speak, among other things.
   


Here we have another solid, 4 star album from AZ. He continues to take what worked before, coming through with such consistency that it's remarkable a decent label hasn't gotten a hold of him and pushed him to the moon. Either way, another fine album here.






Release date: April 1, 2008




1. "The Game Don't Stop"
Produced by Fizzy Womack AKA Fame

This was a nice, laid back, apply titled opener right here. I also liked the nod to Biggie's classic "Warning" towards the end of the 3rd verse. Very good start.
*4 out of 5*

2. "Superstar"
Produced by Mr. Lee

I'm not sure who the lady was on the hook, but while her (nice) vocals were uncredited, she did a fine job here. And of course AZ does come off as a superstar on this one.
*4 out of 5*

3. "Life On The Line"
Produced by Street Radio

While the title of this would suggest something totally different, AZ gives a nice perspective on life in general, including hip hop. The mellowness here is undeniable.
*4 out of 5*

4. "Fire"
Produced by Nottz

"I don't use no lime, I abuse no time/Like a crossword puzzle I confuse the mind"


Laid back fire right here, nuff said.
*4 out of 5* 

5. "What Would You Do"
Featuring Jay Rush
Produced by Emile

An ok song, but nothing we haven't heard before for the most part.
*3 out of 5*

6. "Dead End"
Produced by Street Radio

I like the nice throwback vibes present on this good song.
*4 out of 5*

7. "Parking Lot Pimpin"
Produced by Street Radio

Well, let's just say Jay-Z's song of the same title was better, even though I'm not doing a direct comparison.
*3 out of 5*

8. "Undeniable"
Additional Vocals by Chris Classic
Produced by The Bad Parts, Co-Produced by K.G. & E.C. 

A pretty good title track, seemed like it was aiming for radio play, much like the next song.
*4 out of 5*

9. "Go Getta"
Featuring Ray J
Produced by J. Garfield

Wow, AZ was almost lacking creativity when it came to some of the song titles on this album (in terms of those same titles being used by other artists, respectively). And isn't it crazy that even at this point Ray J is a much bigger star than AZ? Moving on, this was clearly aimed for the ladies as well as the radio (notice a trend here). It wasn't successful in regards to the latter, but as a song it's ok.
*3 out of 5*

10. "Now I Know"
Produced by Nottz

This was ok (again), nothing more. I'm not sure what the deal was with AZ's laughing throughout the hook though.
*3 out of 5*

11. "A. Game"
Produced by Fizzy Womack AKA Fame

Well, I can say he did come with his "A Game" on this one, nothing more or less.
*3 out of 5*

12. "The Hardest" (Video Mix)
Featuring Styles P
Produced by Large Professor 

This collabo with AZ and Styles P was good, but considering all of the elements involved, it should've been so much better than what we got. (There was also a song after this, but it was uncredited on the album for some reason, nothing more to say about it.)
*3.5 out of 5*



Well, after such a run of consistent material dating back to 1995's "Doe Or Die", it comes to an unfortunate stop here. This is not a great album, it's not a bad album, it's simply a decent, 3.5 star effort. The problem was not AZ's lyrics (which were still good, but not as sharp this time around), it's the production that brings it down quite a bit. The highlight of this album is the opener, "The Game Don't Stop". And with all this being said, we have come to the end of the AZ project. Now time for my final thoughts and album rankings.




After the "Undeniable" album, a few projects were released. "Final Call (The Lost Tapes)", which featured unreleased songs recorded in 2003 and 2004, was released on November 11, 2008. "Anthology (B-Sides & Unreleased) came out a week later. "Legendary" was released in 2009, but I don't consider anything that came out on Real Talk Ent. to be a studio album. Courtesy of Siccness.net (another entity I'm not to fond of), a mixtape titled "G.O.D. (Gold, Oil & Diamonds)" was released on June 30, 2009 and the "Doe Or Die: 15th Anniversary" edition was released on November 30, 2010, which featured remixes of most of the songs from his debut. As of this posting, there's no word on what his next move will be and if "Doe Or Die 2" will ever see the light of day, but I hope he succeeds in his plan to release 10 albums, probably before calling it a career. Overall, his VERY good, consistent body of work is a testament to his lyrical and gifted talents on the mic, and it's a shame that he never blew up in hip hop like he should've, always a case of "what could've been". He'll definitely go down as one of the most underrated MCs to ever touch a mic and AZ, I thank you for all of your accomplishments since 1994!!!!!




ALBUM RATINGS AND RANKINGS
1. "DOE OR DIE" (5 STARS)
2. "AZIATIC" (4.5 STARS)
3. "PIECES OF A MAN" (4 STARS)
4. "A.W.O.L." (4 STARS)
5. "THE FORMAT" (4 STARS)
6. "9 LIVES" (4 STARS)
7. "UNDENIABLE" (3.5 STARS)

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