It's part celebration and part reflection on Undeniable, AZ's 9th solo album. Anthony Cruz's latest venture finds him toasting to the good life while rehashing Mafioso narratives reminiscent of his famed 'East coast in the 90's' style. Following up on The Format, AZ's solid 2006 release, the Brooklyn emcee persists and contends on his veteran status in Hip-Hop. But while The Format's back-to-basics vibe found AZ planted deep into the grit and grime of the streets, Undeniable relates the chronicles of an already-successful hustler and all the pleasure and pain that runs along those lines.
American Gangster 2008
Undeniable presents an opportunity for an AZ/Jay-Z juxtaposition, as the album closely resembles Hov's American Gangster in its thematic structure. Like Jay, AZ introduces the album with a grim preamble into a dangerous new world. Much like the dramatic opening scenes of many gangster flicks, the sounds of sirens, screams, frenzied gunfire and the dusty keys of a solemn organ launch the author's tale. AZ seizes the opportunity to reflect on his early upbringing, growing up amongst other cutthroat '80's babies.' The listener is soon transported to "Superstar" and "Life on the Line," a pair of polished and catchy yarns of success amongst adversity.
On the flip side, glitzy tracks such as "Parking Lot Pimpin'" and "Go Getta" fail to meet the mark -- the former facing an inevitable comparison to Jay-Z's street classic of the same title, and the latter featuring a contribution by Ray J (enough said). Sandwiched right in between these two duds, however, is the album's title track. Soulful production by Street Radio, earnest croons by Jimi Kendrix and steadfast bars by AZ help keep the album's second half afloat.
Differing from Jay-Z's fictional account, however, AZ's dodges the fatal bullet of defeat. "The Game Don't Stop," the album's previously noted intro track, describes life's wavering turn of events and ironically (or, perhaps wittingly) serves as a convenient continuation from the end of the album if played on a constant loop.
AZ at His Best
When the Vizualiza digs deep, you know you're in for a ride: 'Unbelievable' benefits from contemplative tracks such as 'What Would You Do' where he reflects: "...There's no more ethics or codes to follow/ Couldn't connect it 'til I seen killers conversatin' with 5-0/ Been hollow since they left BIG slumped up in that Tahoe/ Que paso? Been cakin' since Cube rocked The Apollo/." 'Dead End', a track which might have felt more comfortable at or around the end of the album, finds AZ further analyzing, ruminating on the shattered innocence of his youth: "No joke, we was all better broke/ ...Kept it all hood, everybody had hope/ Then them boats came afloat, everybody had coke/."
Undeniable? No, Underrated
One of its great attributes, the production on Undeniable offers a crisp, soulful and most of all lush backdrop for AZ's equally deep wordplay. Throwback soundscapes on tracks like 'A. Game', 'Fire' and 'Now I Know' seek to channel early Sosa at a more braggadocios and flashy level. Granted, this is no 'Sugar Hill', but Undeniable holds its weight amongst contemporary hip-hop. As if he still needs to prove himself, AZ once again demonstrates that his skills are both underrated and underappreciated. "And you thought Lil Weezy was nice!"Top Tracks