Review Summary: Shaquille O'Neal's sophomore record exposes a more vulnerable side of Shaq, but it's very mimimal and still plagued by the flaws and errors that befell his debut album.
Shaquille O'Neal had become one of the biggest names in the NBA during 1994, with his brutal devastating style of play and massive size. He wasn't just popular for that, he became infamous for his December 1992 interview with Arsenio Hall and the rap performance he put out. His debut 1993 album "Shaq Diesel" sent shockwaves throughout the entire music industry, earning some of its singles on regular rotation on the radio and music channels like BET and MTV. A first for a professional athlete, the next year that album would garner platinum certification from the RIAA which hasn't been duplicated since. A mega commercial success, but slammed by music critics for his clumsy and often funny lyricism, Shaq tried replicating the success of his debut record with his 1994 album "Shaq Fu: Da Return". While it didn't earn nearly as much success as it his debut record, it still managed to pull off a gold certification from the RIAA and still ended up getting fantastic sales. While "Shaq Diesel" was a laughable and weak debut record, "Shaq Fu: Da Return" had some well-needed improvements along with a star-studded roster of producers and guest artists but still wasn't enough to combat the flaws of Shaq's rapping technique and lyricial style.
What makes it a bit better than "Shaq Diesel" is the fact that he shied away more from the comical, chuckle-worthy raps that occupied his first record. Shaquille goes on and makes more music that shows otherwise more dimensions of his being. "Biological Didn't Bother" is easily the best track overall on the record, telling the masses of the personal relationship Shaq's step-dad Phil had with him, when his biological father didn't want anything to do with him. While the hook does take a page out of Pete Rock and C.L Smooth's "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y)", this heartfelt rap definitely delivered otherwise a pretty decent performance from Big Shaq. Even better is that he put out another version of this song, with the other one being a G-Funk edition featuring Warren G and a twangy guitar beat. What is surprising about the second version is that it actually outdoes the original version, which seemed to be impossible considering the first one was good in it of itself. Another standout track is the Erick Sermon-produced "Shaq's Got It Made", blasting a jazzy flavor into the mix. Shaq again throws up nice lines, bragging about how he has it all with playing basketball, writing raps, the fact he can sing, and that he can be a gentlemen to the ladies. What is also pretty sweet of Shaq is his loyalty to the sponsors who support him, as in this track he gives mention to Pepsi, which is cleverly worked into his raps. He flows well in this track, but he it does get a bit lackluster with a bit too much braggadoccio.
Shaq Fu however didn't get away scott-free from some of the numerous flaws that O'Neal displays with his clunky and slow rapping technique. He also reverted to his comedic lines again, which do come out as pretty funny but fails to reciept any warranty of creditability. "My Style, My Stelo" with Redman and Sermon puts that all on the window, showing the side of Shaq that unfortunately caused his debut record to get virtually panned by the critics. O'Neal's raps just weren't on-par with this funky groovy beat, as he gets easily outshined by Redman and Sermon also gives a better performance than he did. It was pretty visible throughout the album, with other guest artists literally outdoing Shaq like in "Freaky Flow" with General Sha and Mr. Ruffneck. Shaquille tried to flex a little more in this one, but it eventually backfired on him in the end. Shaq even tried to knock it with Keith Murray on the track "Newark To C.I" which didn't turn out well with this time Murray being the star of the show. Production-wise and guest-wise is a major reason why Shaq Fu doesn't get more negative reception than it gets, with talented producers led by Warren G, RZA and Erick Sermon dropping more authentic, hardcore rap beats. The guest appearances are very well done too, with guys like Keith Murray, Warren G, and Redman delivering slick lines when Shaq couldn't.
"Shaq Fu: Da Return" sees some well-needed improvements, with O'Neal starting to touch on personal subjects and supplies the fans with another side of his being. The production overall was pretty good, with not one track having a single bad beat in them which is of course what you would expect from guys like RZA and Erick Sermon. The star-studded appearances from Redman and others also shine, even going to lengths where Shaquille certainly couldn't go. The sophomore release however does have plenty of lackluster moments, the majority of it being the mediocre rapping and goofy lyrics that plagued his first release of music material. Fortunately that would all shift entirely in his third album "You Can't Stop The Reign" two years later in 1996, but this sophomore release just doesn't cut it. It comes off as a nice improvement from his extremely weak debut and is worth a try because it is Shaquille O'Neal, but Shaq Fu still failed to hit on-target just like it did for the video game.