Cam’ron Upholds His Lyrical Ingenuity on ‘The Program’ Mixtape
Two years have passed since Cam’ron dropped a complete project, and even back then, the spotlight was shared. In November of 2015, Killa Cam and Berner dropped Contraband, a collaborative EP that included a handful of underwhelming tracks that fizzled before they even had a chance to make heat. Before that it was the UNLostFiles and the 1st of the Month series – both of which barely quenched fans’ thirst for that spot-on, gritty Killa Season Cam. However, rap fans' prayers have been answered with the release of The Program, Cam’s first solo project in three years.
Despite being a rather surprising release for fans and critics alike, this project comes highly anticipated and met head on with a sense of relief from those who weren't sure he'd stick to his original plan of dropping a new project before the year ended. With one simple listen, it’s clear to see that Cam hasn’t lost that intangible Harlem haughtiness that makes him such a beloved figure in the culture. Plus, he can still rap his ass off.
The Program opens with “It’s Killa,” a brief synopsis of Cam’s decorated rap sheet throughout the years. Before getting into detail about selling heroin and smoking pounds, he prefaces things with “You know I can talk about what I wanna talk about/Them statute of limitations is up for them drugs/Far as them murders, I never knew nuttin' anyway.” This declaration works as a precursor for the entire project’s explicit honesty. Cam has never been one to pull punches on a record and The Program is no exception. He talks openly about Kanye’s recent meltdown on “Coleslaw” with bars like, “Kanye got on stage, what he do? Played JAY-Z out/What he do next? Check into the crazy house?/Fuck that, you made a living talking greasy.” He also gives props to the late Prodigy on “D.I.A” as he raps, “No clothes on, got a prodigy/Stab your brain with your nose bone/Shit, got that line from The Infamous.”
The lyrical brigade doesn’t stop there. Cam tags in fellow New York City wordsmith Don Q on “Hello,” the project’s most dizzying display of rap writing. The two New Yorkers have a witty back and forth as Don raps, “I'm around OG's, that was sellin' ki's out the Westin” and then Cam follows up with “I'm the OG Don Q was talkin' about at the Westin.” Even though they are talking about wildly illegal endeavors it’s exciting to hear a New York hip-hop pioneer go bar-for-bar with a promising new artist.
Amidst all these hardcore rap cuts, Cam brings back some of that archetypal Harlem soul on “Lean.” Using the backbone of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me,” Cam slows down the flow and reflects on the trials and tribulations that got him to this place of peace. “Jealousy, crack, greed, homicide and chronic/Where niggas catch a body, changed their name like the Sonics/It was hot like Phoenix/used to look up at the Lenox Ave. sign hold my heart and pledge allegiance” is just one example of Cam wearing his truth on his sleeve.
The only obstacle in the way of The Program being one of Cam’s strongest projects is the pacing, length and handful of filler tracks. He bookends the project with top-notch cuts at the beginning and at the end of the tracklist but the middle isn’t as memorable. A combination of middle-of-the-road beats and half-hearted delivery renders a chunk of the project hard to revisit. Luckily there are enough tracks that provide hope for his upcoming full-length album, Killa Season 2, but he could have easily chopped this tracklist in half.
The Program is more of a practice layup for Cam rather than a game seven buzzer beater. He raps with the same potency he always has but just slightly misses on the project’s arrangement. It may not be the slam dunk he wanted right now but if this project’s best tracks are any indication of what’s to come, everyone and their mother should get ready for a long Killa Season.
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