Review Summary: I love Cowboy Troy but this is awful.
I enjoyed listening to Cowboy Troy's innovative and creative, fun country-rap albums Loco Motive
and Black in the Saddle
, which show off Troy's great talent for rapping and songwriting. He's got the talent and flow as a rapper, but as this 2010 compilation EP shows, it took him a while to hit his stride as an artist. Before You Knew My Name
consists of five early demo tracks from before Cowboy Troy made an impact by fusing country with rap. Here, he's making straight up hip-hop music. This is problematic for a couple of reasons. One is that the beats on this EP suck. They're not good hip-hop beats. The first three tracks are variants on the same beat. The last two have a little more variety in production style, but the whole EP suffers from very cheap production values. Especially when the poor recording quality gives off the impression that Cowboy Troy is an unenergetic rapper, which is far from the case if you've heard his later albums.
Whatever strengths his lyrical skills and flows demonstrated on this EP might be, the bad recording and beats that don't flow with the raps don't demonstrate his skills very well. It's hard to tell if this is the fault of the recording being bad, or if Cowboy Troy was still developing his skills when recording these early tracks (recorded sometime after 1999, when he started rapping, and before his 2005 debut album) or if it's just that he works better riffing off a live band, like on his country albums.
One thing's for certain, it's that aside from the aesthetic value that live country and rock instrumentation provided on his later recordings, the music helped the songs by allowing you to overlook some of the cornier lyrics in Cowboy Troy's saddlebag of raps. Don't get me wrong, Troy is a great rapper and has some impressive rhymes on his later efforts, but occasionally some rhymes were corny, but were easier to overlook with a rip-snorting country sound. Here, the hip-hop sound of these tracks is very primitive, so it doesn't do as good a job of hiding corny lines, like when Troy says that he likes Mexican food, which makes him a Texican...which is a lame line.
The one highlight here in terms of lyrics and music is "Jed", which namedrops the Beverly Hillbillies and rock bands like Soundgarden
and Mike Patton
(as well as Faith No More
's "Midnight Crisis"). The beat is noticeably different from the first three tracks with a synthesized guitar sound and synthesizer horns every once in a while, which is not outstanding production, but at least It's not a variation on the "Tae Kwon Flo" beat. The song "Jed" is not great but it's better than anything else on the EP. "Saddle Up" isn't very good, but it's a step up from the first three tracks and while the production is still very weak, it's much better than the first three tracks.
One of the biggest questions I had listening to these tracks was if Cowboy Troy's country rap fusion later on was planned from the start and these demos were just made to generate interest in getting a band together, or if Troy wanted to become a straightforward rapper and just wasn't well received by the hip-hop community" It's not his rap skills that's the problem. While this is nowhere near as awesome as his more polished work, his flow and lyrics show potential.
The real aspects that sink this collection are that these are terrible songs, lacking the catchiness that made later hits like "I Play Chicken With The Train" classics, the production on these early hip-hop recordings being so terrible, and Troy being not nearly as good as other Texas rappers, like Scarface
or Bushwick Bill
. Troy even sounds on one track like he's trying to be a family friendly version of Schoolly D
in terms of his flow and the production style. He doesn't have it in him to be a hardcore rapper, but the production sounds very derivative of 1980s gangsta rap, which contrasts hard with the clean lyrics.
Troy doesn't curse or use vulgarity in his lyrics, and the most risque lyrics on his later country albums never went above a PG-13 level (and when Big & Rich
say the word "shit" on one of his later country songs, it's censored to escape a PA sticker!) -- Before You Knew My Name
, if I were to be generous, is a PG album. But lack of profanity isn't the issue, just the dated, weak sounding production. He might've done better with better beats, but maybe he just works better with a live band.
One of the strangest aspects about these demos is that Troy, who coined the phrase "hick-hop", uses it in a couple of these songs, despite them completely lacking any country elements. And Troy, who is one of the few African-Americans representing the country-rap movement (not to mention one of the genre's most popular artists and one of the most successful African-American country artists), isn't what you think of first when you hear the phrase "hick-hop". Usually when people refer to hick-hop, they're describing fat, white trailer trash rappers wearing baseball caps and overalls waving Confederate flags that they insist stand for Southern pride and not slavery utilizing hip-hop beats with twangy samples, whereas Cowboy Troy is a tall black guy in a cowboy hat who dresses like a country singer and raps over country and hard rock music and has never promoted the Confederate flag ever.
But as for this specific release, it's a very poor representation of Cowboy Troy's work. Avoid this EP at all costs, but I highly recommend listening to Loco Motive
and Black in the Saddle
, which are significantly better recordings. Before You Knew My Name
isn't even Infinite
, it's Troy's equivalent to those early Eminem
demos he recorded back before he got really good, back when Eminem was still awful. (Like remember that track where Eminem disses black girls and the flow was so bad black guys were more mad about his flow sucking than the racist lyrics")
I'm not saying Loco Motive
is anything like The Slim Shady LP
in terms of lyrical content or even lyrical skills, but Loco Motive
IS a landmark country-rap album and while Cowboy Troy didn't invent the genre, he did do really impressive work in it, whereas this collection of early attempts at hip-hop fall flat with the bad production and complete lack of country music.