Epic

After an 11-year sabbatical from the producer-as-flagship-artist game, who knew we needed another Swizz Beatz album in 2018 so bad?

Poison—the veteran super-producer and distinguishable hypeman’s first solo LP since 2007’s lukewarm One Man Band—soars past all expectations. Not only is the project a worthy addition to Swizz’s extensive catalog, which stretches back to his hit-churning East Coast keyboard creations of the late ’90s, it’s quite frankly one of the tightest rap releases of the year.

Swizz, 40, reportedly recorded up to 70 tunes with an array of artists for the LP, but with some critical advice from co-executive producer J. Cole—who curiously doesn’t appear on Poison himself—edited the track list all the way down to a tidy 10 songs and a condensed 33-minute runtime.

As painful as it might have been, a couple of event records got shelved in favor of a dark street record with razor-sharp instrumentals and elite MCs flexing. It’s as if Swizz posted a sign on the studio door for all his famous rapper pals: No phoned-in cameos allowed.

So Swizzy’s hyped-up Kanye West and Bono duet will grow a layer of dust, the Bruno Mars radio single has been placed on hold and the mythical New York posse cut featuring Jay-Z, Nas, DMX and Jadakiss will remain shelved until what Mr. Beatz deems “the perfect timing.”

"It was cool to take what people would call smash hits, international hits, the radio hits, the girl songs—anything that fell in a category I took off the album to maintain consistency," Swizz told XXL of Poison earlier this year. "Every song has a purpose, every artist is performing to their maximum potential or even better. That's how I narrowed down the body of work... I want to start from the ground floor and maintain my integrity and just add something to the culture."

Letting a rejuvenated Lil Wayne snatch the mic first is a wise place to start. Over some Halloween murder keys, Weezy goes bonkers on “Pistol on My Side (P.O.M.S.),” picking up where his impressive Carter V left off.

Unlike so many producer-curated LPs, Poison isn’t about forcing odd-couple collaborations or trying to cram as many familiar names into the liner notes as possible. (An exception would be The Lox and Kendrick Lamar meet-up, “Something Dirty/Pic Got Us,” but even then, Pulitzer Kenny is restricted to shit-talking hook duties only.)

Instead, the songs repeatedly win by virtue of Swizz’s impeccable ear for crisp, undeniable instrumentals—assisted at times by AraabMUZIK, MusicMan Ty, Avery Chambliss, Bink! and DJ Scratch—and how the infectious enthusiasm of his hooks seems to drag out rappers’ A-games. He caters to their worlds instead of forcing them into his.

Jim Jones is in top form on “Preach.” Nas digs into his ultra-descriptive storytelling style on the blues-tinged, guitar-looped “Echo.” And Pusha T bodies the heavy “Cold Blooded” with stark precision and raw writing: “They said his skin wasn't light enough/And his future wasn't bright enough/Little sister don't talk much/'Cause their uncle had the Midas touch/Evil is as evil does/Mama looked away, blamed it on his needle buzz.”

Somehow, the performances refuse to lag down the stretch. Young Thug’s “25 Soldiers” finds him laying off the heavy Auto-Tune and actually going in with rhymes and chirps and flow shifts—it’s wonderful and haunting. Just when you might be worried the mood may be turning too grim, Swizz ratchets the energy on “Stunt,” with an arena-ready banger, insta-quotables (“I even work on my birthday!”) and a slick 2 Chainz finale.

Closer “SwizzMontana” features the most trademark Swizz beat on the thing—heck, it could’ve been lifted from an old Ruff Ryders comp—and French Montana saying little of substance, but having a ton of fun doing it. It's a shame that the project's retail version omits the Big Daddy Kane "Young, Gifted and Black" sample that appears on an advance press version (likely clearance issues) but Swizz's buzzing, stop-and-go electric guitars fill in nicely.

All told, Poison is the kind of rapid and arresting aural assault we get blessed with when an artist actually adheres to the old GZA adage: “Make it half short and twice strong.”

Drink up. —Luke Fox

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