envycafe.jpgRed Café has gone through a lot. A staple in New York’s mixtape circuit, the Brooklyn-bred rapper first earned props for ghostwriting Diddy’s verse on Busta Rhymes’ 2002 hit “Pass the Courvoisier, Pt. 2.” A deal with Arista Records came the following year, but he got lost in the shuffle when the label merged with J Records in 2005. Looking to beef up his profile, the rap rookie then signed to Mack 10’s Hoo Bangin’ imprint, but the partnership fell apart a year later. Enter Akon, who recently added Red to his Konvict Muzik roster. Before making his major-label debut next year, Café teams up with DJ Envy for The Co-Op.

The pair warm things up with the Rockwilder-produced “Dolla Bill,” featuring Fabolous and Jermaine Dupri. Riding the boisterous beat like an urban cowboy, Red spits his trademark wit: “I’m rich, boy/Throw D’s on a bitch/I get it raw like Whit, Whit, Whitney/My head bald like Brit, Brit, Britney/Arm-n-Hammer got the meanest lean/So I got a lot of sons/A Phoenix team.” The all-star lineup continues as a rejuvenated Sheek Louch pounces on the rugged “Buck Buck,” which is powered by a vocal sample taken from Kool G. Rap’s “Ill Street Blues.”

The disc takes a creative dive, though, as Styles P and Uncle Murder deliver mediocre lyrics over J Cardim’s overly aggressive production on “G. Move.” Then there’s the smoothed-out “Take Your Clothes Off,” which is oversaturated with sexual innuendo that comes off too crass to entice the ladies: “Lay you on ya stomach, spread ya thighs/Make that fat ass reach for the sky.” Another questionable move is the inclusion of Moss’ faux reggae tune “Ghetto Children.”

Fortunately, Red rebounds with the Gina Thompson remake “Things You Do,” featuring Nina Sky, and his flirtatious duet with Remy Ma, “What It Do.” While The Co-Op reveals glimpses of Red’s potential, his talent is sometimes overshadowed by too much cooperation.—THOMAS A. HARDEN