While most of rap’s new generation have been collecting copper in the sales department, Plies’s Midas touch has been something to marvel at. After his 2007 debut, The Real Testament, sold over 500,000 copies, the Fort Myers, Florida, native promptly returned, 10 months later, with his 2008 sophomore LP, Definition of Real. Off the strength of saucy R&B singles like the Ne-Yo–assisted “Bust It Baby Pt. 2” and the mischievous “Please Excuse My Hands,” Plies’s second effort earned him not only another gold plaque, but also a reputation as a bankable hip-hop artist. Continuing to get while the getting’s good, the self-proclaimed goon drops his third disc in 16 months, Da REAList.
There are two sides to Plies, and he pulls them both off well. On the one hand, he’s all about paper, pussy and posturing. For example, “Fuck U Gon’ Do Bout It” finds him in the club, drunk as fuck, pistol in his pocket, acting a damn fool over a belligerent track aimed to get thugs on the dance floor. The same goes for the Drumma Boy–produced “Plenty Money,” a self-explanatory ode to outrageous ballin’, and “Make a Movie,” the album’s most energetic selection.
Then there’s Plies’s deeper side, which doesn’t show up on the Billboard charts. Revealing a gangster’s vulnerability, Plies pleads with God to bless his closest relatives, on “Family Straight.” Over introspective keys, Plies laces the song’s heartfelt hook with poignant prose (“Grandma on a kidney machine, she done lost all her weight/My auntie got AIDS, she’s starting to lose her faith”). Rising from bended knee, he redirects his anger toward an unbalanced judicial system, threatening to sentence the judge’s kids and watch them beg for life, on “2nd Chance,” before toasting would-be convicts who got off scot-free, on “Gotta Be.”
With its multifaceted palette, Da REAList is not without its faults. “All Black” finds Plies in full goon glory (“Put on a black tee, took off that Polo, man/Try to slide on me and I’ma spray your ass“), but his tough talk gets tiresome, with only a sparse 808 drumbeat backing him. The repetitive “I Chase Paper” seems to retread a well-traveled path, and the album’s first single, “Put It on Ya,” is a bit of a letdown, as well. Not as catchy as “Bust It Baby Pt. 2,” and far less memorable than ’07’s T-Pain collabo “Shawty,” the latter track ultimately falls victim to the high standards set by Plies’s previous work. Luckily, the rapper redeems himself alongside R&B crooner Sean Garrett on the sultry “Street Light,” using his signature Southern drawl to lure lovelies and make words rhyme that ordinarily wouldn’t (“Jeans sticking to her, pussy look right/She get in this whip, it ain’t no coming back”).
Not since DMX has a rapper put out three solid LPs in such a short time, so the goon makes good on a tall order. In addition to delivering a slew of radio-ready singles and sexed-up songs, Plies offers substantial selections (like the politically charged “Pants Hang Low” and the industry fuck-off “Heard of Me”). Da REAList, while not perfect, might be his best album yet, as he remains diverse and simultaneously satisfying to his core fan base. As long as Plies continues to keep it all the way real, his gold accolades have the potential to one day turn platinum. —PAUL CANTOR