Review Summary: Praise the RZA, for the second coming of NAS is here!
“It’s good, I got niggaz startin’ to believe.” -Lute [Intro]
Charlotte, NC emcee Lute fondly recalls the hip-hop of the 90s. His West1996 is an attempt to recapture that golden era of hip-hop. Classic hip-hop included artists as diverse as Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., A Tribe Called Quest, and Nasir Jones himself. Despite the immense potential of that era, many of the promises of 90s hip-hop were unrealized. NAS faded away after Illmatic, while 2pac and Biggie burnt out altogether. Q-tip and his crew consistently put out great albums, but to little fanfare. Lute captures the best of each of these artists with West1996, whether it’s the dynamic lyricism of Nas, the classic beats of A Tribe, or the unadulterated humanity of Tupac and Biggie.
With an album cover like West1996, Lute is already being billed as the second coming of NAS. West1996 surpasses Illmatic in that it transcends the angst of its predecessor in places, in particular the second half of the album, and reaches a creative plateau which allows for the careful consideration of important topics, including but not limited to poverty, crime, and success. Contrast this with Illmatic, in which artistry is superb but with little in the way of a message.
“Real2Real” (fifth track) signals the end of the first half of the album, which is essentially Lute’s attempt at recreating Nas’ fantasy, and the beginning of the second half of the album, which is Lute’s own Illmatic, set in his native Charlotte, NC.
The video for “Real2Real” depicts Lute with his crew, walking along the rail-road tracks. “Throw your dubs up if you feel me… throw your fours up if you feel me,” refrains Lute, talking about the Westside symbol his crew displayed on their four fingers. “Carolina Folks” continues with the North Carolina theme, and helps to define this album further.
“Carolina Folks” is a soulful version of “NY State of Mind” from Illmatic in that it expresses a state of profound disenchantment with the current state of affairs. “That’s Just How It Goes” continues this theme of disenfranchisement; it is a jazz-influenced, hurt-filled song about the hardships of growing up on the West-side, in the style of an indie remake of “That’s Just the Way It Is” by Tupac:
Told the oldest son you too old to be rhyming beats.
Told the youngest son we too poor to waste time on dreams.
So get up off your ass, find you a J-O-B.
While the step-dad on the couch
And he sound asleep
Never judge a soul nobody different than you and me
Behind closed doors ain’t no telling what niggaz see
I do this for you and me [That’s Just How It Goes]
“Letter2” is an instant classic within the genre. It perfectly captures the moment, when after a break-up of a serious relationship, a person snatches victory from the jaws of defeat; the moment when you’re okay that it’s over, i.e. the feeling of ‘free at last.’ Lute’s “letter” to said lover comes in the form of a three and half minute song that realizes the full potential of classic hip-hop, with a soulful hook and the timeless chorus:
Letter to what could've been my
lady, wife, and my best friend
said, if you love it, you let it go in the wind...
And if it comes back, then maybe it was meant to be…
I guess I got to wait to see.
I am sincere, so I sign this sincere-ly
oh yes, PS: don't even write back, Carolina I'm returning yours, so give me my heart back. [Letter2]
Lute, like his predecessors, defines himself in terms of his success, i.e. how far he ends up from the Westside of his hometown. What will define West1996 is its success. “Success” is a song that defines this album, and his success will define Lute, when it is all said and done.
From Big wheels to coup devilles
From cap guns to real steal
From landing shows to landing deals on the road to success boy
That’s how I feel [Success]
Lute defines himself in terms of his own personal success (see “Success”), but it remains to be seen if he is able to capture triumph over hardship that continues to elude his predecessors.