Review Summary: Some decent songs and a good concept but a lot of filler and skits ruin the album's flow
Concept albums are obviously much more commonly associated with progressive rock than hip-hop. In fact, many people would probably struggle to name a single hip-hop concept album except perhaps Deltron 3030
or perhaps Dr. Octagonecologyst
. A Prince Among Thieves
is actually the second concept album from ex-De La Soul producer and Gravediggaz member Prince Paul.
While his first and his debut album, Psychoanalysis: What is It?
covered a vague topic of different mental conditions such as schizophrenia, A Prince Among Thieves
is much more ambitious. The whole album follows a single plot set in the seedy underground with a cast of drug dealers and addicts, crooked cops, weapons dealers and so on. Without giving too much away, the plot involves a young rapper named Tariq who is attempting to gain $1000 to put together a demo tape before a meeting with the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA. However, trouble starts when he goes for help to his jealous friend True who drags Tariq down into drug dealing.
Each character is played by a different rapper and it truly is a star-studded cast. RZA plays himself, Kool Keith plays Crazy Lou, a weapons dealer, in his own hilarious tongue-in-cheek yet slightly sinister style and De La Soul play crack addicts. There are even more guest rappers, including Xzibit and Big Daddy Kane. Perhaps the biggest strength of the album is despite the talented cast, none of the rappers overshadow each other at all or steal the limelight. Even the more unknown rappers such as Breezy Brewin' who plays Tariq and Sha who plays True hold up admirably well placed next to such big names and don’t really sound any weaker at all. The lyrics aren’t hugely impressive but tell the story well and are easy enough to follow.
The plot is held together by skits. While this keeps the story easy to follow and gripping, there are far too many of them. Including the skits, there are 35 songs on the 73 minute long album. Even without the skits the album would drag and, apart from progressing the story, they do little other than break up the album’s flow.
Prince Paul does a good job of preventing the album from getting dull and monotonous by creating a hugely eclectic variety of different beats for the songs. Prince Paul samples everything from mournful violins to jazzy pianos. What links the different styles together is an overall cinematic feel. While this does give the album an epic sound it does at times come dangerously close to becoming too glitzy and unsubtle, lacking the grittiness and darkness needed for the themes contained in the album. However, a lot of the music is very catchy and easy to get into, while the quality does vary a lot.
Overall, A Prince Among Thieves
contains some good songs and an engaging enough story but often seems to focus more on the story than the music. The album is plagued by filler and unnecessary skits that ruin the flow. The huge amount of different styles and guest rappers help to stop it dragging but it definitely is too long. With its long running length and focus on story it is definitely an album you have to listen to intently from start to finish, otherwise it will probably lose your intention. It’s definitely worth listening to, but if you want to get a first hip-hop concept album, go for the superior Deltron 3030