2017 Clockwork Music / Full Mettle

Nearly 30 years after his initial debut as a member of Marley Marl's Juice Crew collective, Kool G Rap has not let time diminish his hunger for giving rappers half his age a tutorial in the art of MCing, which is the case on Return of the Don, the Corona, Queens native's latest solo album.

Return of the Don, the influential lyricist's first solo release in six years, finds producer MoSS helming the boards for the entirety of the album. He presents a slew of gritty soundbeds, over which Kool G Rap narrates his street exploits, the first of which arrive with the album's title track.

"Nigga hard, cold as a polar bear's, bake from the rover/Three-leaf clovers if you ever thought my reign was over," the crime author sneers, a reference to his longevity and staying power. He gets a bit more grisly, levying an idle threat ("I push a button on your life like it's a game controller") and conveying his disregard for life.

Fluttering flutes and tribal drums are aplenty on "Mack Lean," one of the more breezy offerings from Return of the Don that includes guest verses from Bronx heavy Fred the Godson and rising Brooklyn MC AG Da Coroner.

"Criminal Outfit" Featuring N.O.R.E., reunites the two crooks from Queens, with N.O.R.E. dropping a quotable couplet. "Ex-Marines that they hire as a sharp shooter/Ebola in ya Coca-Cola while ya car Koopa," he delivers over one of the album's more underwhelming productions on the part of MoSS.

However, the ship is steered back on course with the Lil Fame and Freeway-assisted number "Wise Guys," on which all three rappers give a display of their innate abilities behind the mic. "Niggas G's in the cut, got cheese and a slut/Watch ’em hop on his dick like fleas on a mutt," are just a sample the rewind-worthy musings. Kool G Rap lays down one of the premier outings on the LP, while Freeway gives him a run for his money with a monstrous stanza of his own.

Return of the Don may be flooded with murderous collaborations that pair Kool G Rap with the underground's finest, but the Queens rhyme lord is equally comfortable by his lonely, as he is on the rollicking standout "Time's Up." The track finds him in a New York state of mind, with his brim low and playing the Corona strip. "Hit rolls, 20-inch rims on a benzo/Flash for ’em shorty, put ya tits on the windows," G Rap commands over crisp kicks and snares, crashing cymbals and frantic keys. MoSS serves up another slice of quality boom-bap for the rhyme veteran to devour here.

Shaolin representative Raekwon partners up with Kool G Rap as the pair go for the gusto on "Out for That Life," with the two waxing poetic about the fast life, conjuring visions of the opulence and decadence fit for the lifestyle of a street hustler. Gritty parables of criminality are spun throughout Return of the Don, as Kool G Rap sticks to the script, opting to tend to his core fan base rather than look to expound new ground.

Producer MoSS crafts a refined soundscape with "World Is Mine," a peak moment on Return of the Don that matches the lyrical wit of Crooked I, Willie the Kid and G Rap with the silky vocals of R&B crooner Pearl Gates. Sean Price makes a posthumous appearance alongside Jersey spitter Ransom on the murderous salvo "Popped Off," one of the LP's more aggressive offerings. Bookending the proceedings with "the rockish number "Rest in Peace," which features Griselda Records hardboiled duo Conway the Machine and Westside Gunn, Kool G Rap completes the cypher in an effective manner.

With Kool G Rap's legacy as one of the more influential and respected scribes in hip-hop history already set in stone, he refuses to rest on the laurels of his past work. The veteran rhymer keeps his skin in the game with Return of the Don, another collection of true-school rap, sans any glitzy preservatives. Testing his mettle against the fiercest rhymers in the game, young and old, on Return of the Don, Kool G Rap may be long in the tooth, but remains spry enough to hang with the best of them.

See 40 Hip-Hop Albums Turning 20 in 2017