Mainstream success is pretty tough to come by these days, especially for a street-bred lyricist. Although his 2001 solo shot Kiss Tha Game Goodbye has sold over 933,000 units, Jadakiss didn’t score a crossover hit until 2004’s “Why.” The politically charged single propelled the Yonkers, New York, rapper’s sophomore disc, Kiss of Death, past platinum. After a five-year hiatus, Jada once again looks to crack radio’s fickle sound barrier with bullying bars, on The Last Kiss.
Al Qaeda Jada’s first stab at commercial spins comes courtesy of the E. Hudson–produced “By My Side,” where he spits drab slick talk to a shortie, while singer Ne-Yo carries the hook. ’Kiss fares much better alongside producer Neo Da Matrix on the Diana Ross–sampling mixshow banger “Can’t Stop Me.” Backed by subtle horns and sturdy drums, Jada delivers a more suitable anthem that lives up to his lyrical pedigree (“.45 on the other side of the peephole/Head shot from point-blank, call it a free throw/Funny ’cause I had the vision since Coleco/Back then, still ain’t reach my peak, though”).
True. Despite his claims of being one of the top five dead or alive, Jadakiss has yet to apex. In an effort to change his altitude, The LOX front man ups the ante with more personal reflection. The self-explanatory Faith Evans duet “Letter to B.I.G.” paints a poignant portrait of the current state of hip-hop for the deceased Frank White, while the somber “Things I’ve Been Through” is ’Kiss’s oral résumé sandwiched between a hypnotic Luther Vandross vocal loop. The album’s true gem, though, is the Jazmine Sullivan–guested “Smoking Gun,” a cautionary tale about a Black girl lost.
For all his forward progress, Jada still regresses with unfocused fodder, like the disjointed Styles P collabo “One More Step” and the misplaced reggae turn “Times Hard.” Although he regains his footing with the lyrical workout “Cartel Gathering,” Jadakiss ultimately remains on similar ground—more midstream than mainstream. —ANSLEM SAMUEL