Saigon made the unfortunate mistake of titling his debut album The Greatest Story Never Told. He spent the next five years watching a self-fulfilling prophecy unfold.
After collecting reams of buzz in the early 2000s, Saigon found a home at Atlantic Records. Thus began his troubles. His debut suffered several pushbacks, as fans wondered if the notoriously delayed disc challenge Dr. Dre's Detox for the title of "hip-hop's Chinese Democracy." Frustrated, Saigon left Atlantic, retired from rap, un-retired, bickered with his producer (Just Blaze), got into a head-butting contest with Joe Budden. Finally, he apologized to Just, shook hands with Joey, and started to turn his fate around in other ways.
While the soap opera was playing out, Saigon was sitting on beats his peers would give limbs for. Greatest Story Never Told was gathering dust fast, and reminders of the rust abound. References to Hurricane Katrina and T.I.'s gun charge date the album. And you'll recognize Jay-Z's "Come on, Baby" from 2007. Thankfully, the production and Saigon's own rhymes survive the journey untainted by age.
Greatest Story opens with Sai making his mission clear: this is ghetto gospel. On the introductory song "The Invitation," he paints a vivid portrait of Abandoned Nation. We meet Stripper Teresa who's working to save some bread, while her baby daddy keeps blowing it on blow. Apparently, Teresa has never heard of high interest savings.
Throughout the album, Saigon takes a cruise down the hood and gives the listener a window into decay and decadence. The missing-in-action dad, the crack slinger, and the babies destined for the same path are well-represented in the morbid tales of hopelessness. But, the messenger—albeit well-intentioned—sometimes falls prey to the pitfalls of conscious rap: preachy waters and oversimplifications. "Do away with the clubs and the drug spots," Sai offers, as if it's a measure of profundity.
The music rarely disappoints, though. Greatest Story was produced almost entirely by Just Blaze, with Kanye and DJ Corbett chipping in a track apiece. Classic samples, orchestral strings, and drum blasts drive the songs on Greatest Story Never Told. The formula is simple, but the outcome is not. The tracks are more layered than loud, thanks to Just Blaze's dense instrumentation.
There's the occasional departure that detracts from the LP's agenda. The heavily-autotuned "Believe It" and the vintage Kanye concoction "It's Alright," replete with 4/4 drums and a sped-up soul sample, stick out like sore thumbs. Just Blaze's beats are tailor-made for Saigon's bow-tie flow, further justifying why they moved to resolve their past differences. Thankfully, there's enough of the pairing to ensure musical continuity. Sequencing is painstakingly smooth; every track is a link to the next with virtually no breaks in the chain.
Greatest Story Never Told is not the beginning of Saigon's story. It's the end of a chapter. It's Saigon's closure on a bittersweet phase of his career. This is the artist as he wanted his work to be seen all along. Tight, visceral, consistent. Saigon has arrived.
Dre, "hip-hop's Chinese Democracy" is all yours.Top Tracks
- "Come on, Baby"
- "Oh Yeah (Our Babies)"