It took over 15 years, but the Long Beach, Cali. MC finally released his first studio full-length album. He faced loads of label drama, going from Virgin Records to Death Row Records to Treacherous Records and Shady Records. He joined forces with Joe Budden, Royce Da 5’9″, and Joell Ortiz to form the supergroup Slaughterhouse. He kept his fans hungry for a complete solo project by releasing several EPs over the years and plenty of mixtapes. His Death Row Records debut Say Hi To The Bad Guy never released in the 2000s. After more than a decade in hip-hop limbo, we get his debut LP, Apex Predator.
What Crooked I managed to do very well on Apex Predator is showcase his lyrical ability. Flat out, Crooked can hold his own as an MC against anyone. He brings it on every track, showing amazing delivery (“Crook n Porter”) and dark grim rhymes that ooze ferocity (“YODO”). He has a way of serving hard-hitting rhymes that keeps the listener locked in without getting repetitive.
What this album doesn’t do is surprise you. Exactly what you think a Crooked I project would sound like—super lyrical, dark, gritty, plain—is exactly what you get. The production level is ranging from alluring and refreshing (“Vegas On Biz”) to a scant funky BET cypher-like beat that leaves you wondering if there could have been more (“Sumthing For Nothin”). They’re also very few features on the LP, with the biggest name being Tech N9ne. While fans would like to see a Slaughterhouse or Eminem cut here, you can tell he did this on purpose so listeners can hear him stand on his own.
The most impressive track is “Let Me Get It” featuring Tech. The two are masterful on this record, forming a rapid-fire tag-team duo that work the track like WWE legends The Hardy Boyz used to do in a TLC match. The instrumental on this track, courtesy of Luxe Beats, boast some dark drums and menacing synths. It’s vintage Crook, braggadocious rhymes that’s aggressive and cutthroat. Tech doesn’t overshadow Crooked I on the record at all.
“Nobody Cares” (featuring Tena Jones) is another standout as Mr. Porter plays commentator questioning humanity, while intricately illustrating the hardships of the streets. He focuses on the morality of mankind with gems such as “I ain’t sayin that this rap is perfect/But I’m strapped with purpose/ Trying to get past the surgeons in that emergency room/ But if I don’t get past the caskets surface/ Just write this shit on my tomb/ Nobody cares.”
All in all, Apex Predator doesn’t keep listeners interested as one might hope for a debut full-length. Crooked I can rap—no question about it—but the LP lacks innovative production and enough creativity to make this more than just another rap album. The disappointing thing about it is you want to root for Crooked I, but after it ends, you’re left wishing there was something to takeaway from it.—Emmanuel C.M. (@ECM_LP)