On The Format AZ takes it back to the basics and re-writes the blueprint for modern rap records.
AZ Gets His Mojo Back on The Format
AZ is a textbook example of an emcee's emcee: he's often heralded by hip-hop purists as the most underrated lyricist in the rap game. It's been over a decade since a young Anthony Cruz spit that legendary verse on "Life's a B****," alongside fellow New York wordsmith Nas, and AZ has never compromised his skills for mainstream success; consistency has unquestionably been his focus. Though his career has seen bumpier roads than most, AZ has dropped highly-acclaimed records from his 1995 debut Doe or Die to his triumphant "come-back" album Aziatic. It was in 2005, however, that he officially "broke through" with the independently released A.W.O.L."
Following up on this success, AZ bounces right back with The Format, merely one year later. When asked why The Format, AZ explains: "With me doing a bunch of songs and being down for so long, I wanted to give up-and-coming brothas the format to staying alive." Staying alive? Who better to listen to than the veteran himself, the Vizualiza.
The Format is Consistent from A to Z
AZ's reputation as a poet is unquestionably felt on The Format, as he articulates about street life. AZ touches on numerous topics and issues, springing words into vivid images; hey, it's what the Vizualiza does best! On "Sit 'Em Back Slow," which features fellow Brooklyn emcees Lil' Fame and Billy Danze of M.O.P., AZ depicts street life with bleak realism: "Strategic tactics, beliefs is backwards/ Sites of homicide on the streets is graphic/ In front of momma is five n****s freezin' traffic/ With their drug transactions/ The love can't happen." On "Game of Life", AZ spits: "I feel lost in this mothaf***in' jungle here/ If you ain't live I advise you not to come through here/ No lie, most these guys ain't too humble here/ The livest crews crumble here, we drive through them tunnels here." As AZ depicts the troubles and struggles of life he offers a bit of wisdom: "My advice: never change your stripes, 'cuz ain't no winners in this game of life."
AZ - The Rap Survivor
Portraying himself as a "survivor" in the rap game, the most frequent theme on The Format is the focus on AZ's lengthy career. On "Make Me," a bouncy, boastful collaboration with his up-and-coming protégé Fresh, AZ quips: "Been locked down since them wally moccasins/ And them drop-top BM's, I should have c***-blocked me then/ Now a dime later, haters tryin' to box me in/ But like Iverson I skip-hop to the rim." What's more, AZ the Vizualiza, er, veteran, has no problem addressing the lyrically inferior 50 Cent on "Royal Salute," in response to a diss record put out earlier. Instead of stooping to his level, however, AZ "bodies" Fiddy with ease: "When we're ghost, you can bet who'll be felt the most."
In many ways, AZ'sThe Format plays as a rugged parallel to Jay-Z's The Blueprint. Though understandably not as polished and radio-friendly as Jigga's 2001 masterpiece, The Format offers a similar vibe: an organic, often times soulful, set of expressive songs. Coincidentally, The Format closes out with scratched samples of Jay-Z's own "The Ruler's Back." Is the throne still available?
The Bottom Line
The Format is, in many ways, the blueprint of what a substantial hip-hop record should sound like in this modern age. With help from producers such as, most prominently, DJ Premier, AZ not only stresses bringing the east coast back, but the whole rap game as well. As he states on the album: "I ain't goin' nowhere, I'ma be here til' 2030, you can bet that."Top Tracks from The Format
- "Sit 'Em Back Slow" (featuring M.O.P.)
- "Make Me" (featuring Fresh)
- "The Format" (Produced by DJ Premier)
- "Game of Life"