For some, it makes sense to live by the rule of thumb that says: set your expectations on the lower side, and chances are you won’t be disappointed. Admittedly, that was the mindset most Cam'ron fans experienced when they got a taste of the initial 1st of the Month series in July. You'd expect that the monthly EP campaign would be, at best, a number of easily digestible, solid, but never terribly memorable musings from the professor emeritus of Harlem hip-hop. Not necessarily “throw in the towel” type stuff, of course, but also nothing you would want to listen to for more than a couple days, let alone a month. The latest chapter in Cam’s monthly series 1st of the Month, Vol. 2, however, blew expectations out of the water. Clocking in once again at 5 tracks, 15 minutes, Vol. 2 is sheer and utter audio rapture for anyone who grew up on Cam’ron, the Diplomats, or who simply appreciates the integrity of a New York rapper sticking to his roots, and nailing a performance for the ages.

From the jump, Vol. 2 scores major points with “Sweetest,” a record so earnest, heartfelt, and soulful, it could make you cry with joy. Working with the same sample that British Dipset affiliates S.A.S. toyed with on “Melalin” from 2004’s Diplomatic Immunity 2, “Sweetest” is mostly great because it gives us a side of Cam we haven’t had enough of in recent years; instead of relying on his tendency to spew out frivolous, humoring verses (as enjoyable as they may be), Cam is noticeably sober, intimately reflecting on friends lost throughout each of his attention grabbing verses which transition perfectly into the melancholic sampled chorus. Vol. 2’s second and third tracks, “La La” and “Soulplane,” stick to the same soulful theme introduced on the EP’s intro, but are each less mournful and instead provide the perfect amount of tongue and cheek humor, as well as the stone cold braggadocio, that makes Cam’ron an all time great.

Not that Cam is at the point in his career to thirstily jack trends, but it’s still extra refreshing to get records like “La La,” “Soulplane,” and “Sweetest,” at a time when rappers form across the country, New York included, shed their trademark sounds and regional roots in exchange for whatever is most commercially successful at the given moment. Sure, over the course of his career, Cam has dabbled with sounds and trends from elsewhere across the map. The Diplomats even released their own rendition of Master P’s “Bout It, Bout It,” and the Harlemite also marketed and distributed “Sizzurp” at one point, a “purple punch liquor” sold in stores that was coupled with promotional mixtapes and a video co-signed by the likes of Three 6 Mafia and Bun B. Despite all that, what Cam’ron fans will remember most about his music will always be the brilliance of his “Oh Boy” era, soul-sampling, slow-flowing bravado that smacked of Harlem, New York like Riverside Church basketball or the original harlem shake.

1st of the Month, Vol. 2 is a true-to-form gem, and a nod to Cam’s early aught brilliance. It gives listeners a dose of an artist they might have thought they’d lost, or at least conceded to the laurels of an incredibly successful career. But even at its most single/radio-reaching moments, like on the Nicki Minaj-assisted “So Bad,” Vol. 2 feels and sounds like the Cam’ron we know and love. It is one of the most surprisingly great things you'll hear all summer.—David Inkeles

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