Review Summary: Here we find a jaded Saigon, fueled by his vendetta against the industry, back better than ever, delivering eighteen rock solid cuts of motivated hip-hop.
When a beleaguered 29-year-old Saigon socked Prodigy, one-half of legendary rap duo Mobb Deep, two times in the face at a September 2007 concert, his prospects in the business were fleeting in spite of the brightness of them just a year earlier. When Havoc, the other half of said duo, said in an interview, “If you haven’t already gotten on, and you past 30, try something else,” Saigon was less than a month away from his 32nd birthday and had hit rock bottom. At best he had become an obscurity and at worst, irrelevant. Innumerable delays via label limbo and a subsequent beef with ‘slave masters’ Atlantic Records led to a late 2007 retirement threat with Saigon stating “This is it. The Greatest Story Never Told… I guess you could say it was a prophecy.” But despite his implications, it’s been released. The Greatest Story Never Told
finds a jaded Saigon, fueled by his vendetta against the industry, back better than ever, delivering eighteen rock solid cuts of motivated hip-hop.
The Greatest Story Never Told
is a cautionary one. An ever-present paranoia pervades every bar with Saigon lamenting the traps and travesties of Section 8 living. Throughout the course of the album, he runs the topical gamut all the while retaining consistency. On “The Invitation” he markets himself as the voice of the people, sans any elitist pretense, rapping, “I represent the poor and the populous.
” As the first real track, “The Invitation” lay the groundwork for the entire album, covering a diversified range of subjects with societal weight. Saigon, himself an underdog, plays spokesperson for the voiceless, almost the same way Chuck D did for a genre and a revolution back in Public Enemy’s heyday, minus the Black Nationalist vitriol. On “It’s Alright” he sympathizes with single moms and he addresses gangs perpetuating prepubescent killers “Oh Yeah (Our Babies).” The Greatest Story Never Told
is different because, in a genre that glorifies violence, Saigon consistently demonizes the thug life. Nevertheless, he’s quick to embrace the mistakes he made as a kid running the street, but only as a reference point. He warns of devils in sheep’s clothing on “Enemies” and “Better Way” encourages youth to find a more ethical path to success, and subsequently, out of the ghetto. The Greatest Story Never Told
feeds off of its positivity, but Saigon is firmly rooted in reality at all times.
At one point, executive producer Just Blaze stated that one of the reasons for the delays of the album was that he wanted to build a personal relationship with Saigon before jumping into the studio; a noble attempt, but a failed one at that. Despite the five years it took to record the LP, the signature sound here (delicate soul loops and southern rock guitars punctuated by horns and ornamented by choir samples and rolling percussion) sounds half-baked and on too many tracks it seems that they just aren’t on the same page. Looped background vocals are frequently juxtaposed against Saigon’s rapping and this, while not a big deal, gets to be quite annoying after a while (especially considering the 79-minute long run time.) Even when the two are clicking on all cylinders, it’s still a hit-or-miss process. Oddly enough, Just Blaze appears to be off his A-game here. It seems like you’re always a coin flip away from a vintage Just Blaze cut (e.g. the bombast of the electric guitar noodling and thunderous drums on “Bring Me Down, Pt. 2”) or neo-classicist, faux-Golden-era tripe (e.g. the archaic monotony of the fluttery soul loop, dusty horns, vinyl scratching and insipid drums of the title track) or minimalist, post-“Exhibit C Just Blaze on auto-pilot (e.g. the twinkly chimes, squealing synth-horns and warbly vocal sample of “Friends.”)
Vocally, Saigon is a poor man’s (read, imitation) Kool G Rap. He doesn’t have much of a personality on the mic, but then again, it’s not personality he’s relying on. Hip-hop purists and new age fans alike will enjoy this record, but those looking for a ‘jingle writer’ will be left wanting. Is it the greatest album of the past 20 years like Saigon proclaimed? Absolutely not. But it is the greatest story never told, and that’s enough.