Sometimes with victory comes sweet sorrow. For Chamillionaire, that couldn’t ring more true. The Houston rapper is coming off a highly successful freshman campaign, which includes a platinum plaque for his 2005 debut, The Sound of Revenge, a Grammy-winning single and the title of the biggest-selling ringtone artist of all time. Given all this good fortune, the Mixtape Messiah should be riding high, but based on his sophomore effort, Ultimate Victory, things are anything but sweet.
Cham addresses his woes with the media, hip-hop and the government on the synth-heavy intro, “The Morning News,” angrily spittin’, “Bill O’Reilly’s an idiot, he ain’t the only one with an opinion, fool/E-mail this to my publicist, so the media’s gonna hear it, too/You get on TV and get at me, then I’m gonna get on this CD and get at you.” The verbal tongue-lashings continue on the accompanying “The Evening News” and “Hip-Hop Police,” where Cham and Slick Rick tackle rap critics over JR Rotem’s rhythmic violins and keys.
Clearly, Cham has a message he wants to get across. Problem is his overbearing approach comes off preachy, rather than poetic. The 808-powered “Won’t Let You Down” is a melodic gem that promotes perseverance, but it gets bogged down by a closing rant denouncing liquor, weed and women. That’s no knock against the man’s morals, but more than 15 tracks of finger-pointing is a bit much.
Cham’s approach works better when he applies a spoonful of sugar with his doses of hip-hop medicine (“I Think I Love You”), flexes his lyrical skills (“You Must Be Crazy”) or just has fun on the mic (“The Ultimate Vacation”). While his brand of intelligent music is a much needed counterbalance to the rise of dance-driven hip-hop, Chamillionaire sums up the sorry state of the industry best on the triumphant title track: “Put some nonsense out, and I bet you this one will stick/I put real music out, and I’m probably gonna catch a brick.”
—THOMAS A. HARDEN