Review Summary: AZ may have matched Nas on his ‘Illmatic’ guest spot but his debut is nowhere near as good.“My first album had no famous guest appearances
The outcome: I'm crowned the best lyricist”
-Nas from ‘Got Ur Self A Gun’
Sixteen years after Illmatic,
that statement remains true since no one with guest appearances on that album can be considered famous. Nas and AZ’s careers took very different paths after that classic collaboration, Nas went on to have a very successful career while AZ was relegated to having every move he made be compared to Nas. Few things ever live up to the hype and the beginning of Nas and AZ’s careers were very similar, they created a major buzz due to guest spots and their first singles built anticipation for their debut albums. Illmatic
lived up to and perhaps surpassed the hype but sadly Doe or Die,
while a very good album will always be compared unfavorably to Illmatic.
AZ goes for more of a Mafioso angle on his debut, spinning tales about riches and cocaine. On opening track ‘Uncut Raw’, AZ comes out with guns blazing, with a surprisingly energetic, multi-syllabic flow:
Life is a struggle, that's why niggas I know stay on the juggle
Some hustle to double, others hug you to mug you
Poverty-stricken, they even turn a church kid into stickin
It seems sickenin, but what? Whatever makes the pockets thicken
Elsewhere, Nas shows up to do a very weak chorus on ‘Gimme Yours’, spoiling a good Pete Rock beat. On ‘Mo Money, Mo Murda’ however, Nas supplies a couple of outstanding verses, returning the favor for ‘Life’s a Bitch’ over some faint strings provided by underrated producer DR Period. First single ‘Sugar Hill’ may not be what you were expecting from AZ after hearing him on Illmatic
but assisted by L.E.S. and a female chorus, this was AZ’s shining (solo) moment.
The one constant on Doe or Die,
is AZ’s smooth flow and outstanding, intricate lyrics which are enjoyable even when the production is not. An all-star cast of producers got together for Illmatic
and while a few of those same people contributed on Do or Die
(Pete Rock, L.E.S.), the beats on here are very hit or miss. It’s a bit disappointing to hear AZ on the title track re-using the first two bars of his legendary ‘Life’s a Bitch’ verse, but besides that, his verses are very high caliber, only to be ruined by the hook.
When your fame is built upon one amazing verse, you’re held to a very high standard, one that is difficult to uphold and unfortunately, Do or Die
doesn’t live up expectations as it is neither Illmatic
nor does it show the quality of his verse on ‘Life’s a Bitch’. Those are near impossible levels to maintain and AZ has found that out through his career, he will never make another Illmatic but hey, neither will Nas. In a vacuum, Do or Die
is a great album, even spectacular at times but it seems to be in the shadows as Illmatic
’s forgotten little brother.
Mo Money, Mo Murda