If not for music, Cassidy’s therapy bill would be sky-high. As if releasing two underachieving albums (2004’s Split Personality and 2005’s I’m a Hustla) wasn’t tough enough, last year was particularly hellish for the Philly native. First there was the jail sentence for involuntary manslaughter. Then came October’s near-fatal car crash. With so much personal subject matter to tap into, B.A.R.S. (The Barry Adrien Reese Story) stands as Cass’ most mature work yet. While admirable, good intentions unfortunately can’t make up for soft impact.
Throughout, Cassidy runs the gamut of emotions. On “I Can’t Take It No More,” producer Neo’s rugged blues conjure unease (“I know the feds be watching everyone close to me/That’s why I be smokin’, the stress be approachin’ me”). Switching from paranoid to preachy, on the Swizz Beatz–tracked “Leanin’ on the Lord,” the Hustla dictates spiritual awakenings within three tortured souls: a paralyzed street hustler, a sexually abused female drug user and himself.
Expanding topical range is no easy task, and Cassidy is not exempt from failing to consistently make the transition. Uplifted by John Legend’s crooning on the Devo Springsteen–produced “Celebrate,” Cass’ positive sentiments are lessened by his limp wit (“I had a murder case, I was facing some time, ’Ye/But that’s something small to a giant like Andre”). Elsewhere, his attempts at societal (“Time”) and personal (“Me, Myself, and I”) analysis display growth but barely scratch the surface of Mr. Reese’s recent hardships.
Holding back on the meat and potatoes of the real Barry Adrien Reese story leaves fans hungry for the Cassidy of old. Thankfully, clever punch lines abound on the scorching Beanie Sigel/Fabolous collaboration “U Already Know,” and “My Drink N’ My Two Step” makes for a memorable party track. B.A.R.S. could’ve been the soundtrack to an epic page-turner, but it winds up being merely a CliffsNotes of Cass’ psyche. —MATT BARONE