There was a time when Papoose looked like the heir apparent to New York’s hip-hop throne. Over the course of a dozen or so street mixtapes, the Brooklyn-bred MC generated a huge buzz which led to his infamous $1.5 million deal at Jive Records in 2006. His debut album, The Nacirema Dream, was supposed to come out soon after and many hoped it would mark mainstream rap’s return to the grimy realism of New York hip-hop in the 90s. But until this week, Pap’s dream was never realized. On Tuesday, The Nacirema Dream arrived, nearly seven years after its original release date, and to a much different musical landscape. Despite the evolution of the genre since Papoose’s emergence, this album sticks to the blueprint he first laid out in 2006.
The album’s biggest draw is that it’s street hop to its core. Papoose built his reputation on painting vivid pictures of life in Bed-Stuy and he doesn’t stray from that formula here. Songs like “Mother Ghetto,” “Aim Shoot” and “6AM” are riddled with his mixtape-era gunshot sound effects and brash lyrics depicting tales of drugs and violence. Papoose favors bluntness and a unwillingness to pull punches over colorful metaphors or overtly complex word play. On “Motion Picture,” for example, the MC describes moving from home to home, taking down anyone who stands in his way. It’s raw and straight-to-the-point, in the vein of M.O.P and Mobb Deep, the latter of whom is featured on the album.
Pap does loosen his grip on the microphone at times, and some of the most satisfying songs come when he approaches his topics from a lecturing perspective. On “Cure,” he dives into AIDS conspiracy theories, which is still a fascinating listen regardless of how seriously you take it. On “Law Library Part 8,” he continues his famed series, taking on the criminal justice system in the same captivating manner he did seven years ago. Ultimately, that’s Nacirema Dream’s biggest success, it truly sounds like a vintage New York hip-hop album, and it’ll appeal to those still looking for that.
On the flip side, the production is so outdated you can’t help but think that these songs have literally just been sitting around this whole time. Beats like “Motion Picture” sound like carbon copies of early G-Unit records. Others sound half-baked, built on aging piano lines and rigid drums. The results aren’t much better when the album attempts to try to take on a more accessible sound, like on the auto-tune-tinged “Get At Me,” that sounds like it was ripped off the radio a few years ago.Whether this album was made entirely during the period in which Jive was footing the bill is unknown, though it certainly sounds like. But ultimately, The Nacirema Dream should be celebrated – not only for it’s long overdue release, but because Papoose actually made the album he had always planned on making. — Reed Jackson