AZ : 9 Lives

Brooklyn's heaviest MC returns with a coruscating document from the streets...

It’s been some time coming, but Brooklyn’s heaviest MC has finally resurfaced, some years after album sales from ‘Pieces Of A Man’ failed to impress his former corporate paymasters.

In the interim, AZ (aka Sosa) was never going to fall off the map, and the young man who came to everyone’s attention for his few verses on Nas’ ‘Life’s A Bitch’ (from ‘Illmatic’) simply returned to the streets that spawned him, and could only be heard on a hot self-released mix-tape of new songs.

It’s those streets, and specifically the government project residents, at which ‘9 Lives’ is aimed. And how deep, dark and heavy it is. There’s a complexity to the rhyme schemes, an almost mathematical use of slang, and a feeling that a lot of things have gone down since AZ was last in the limelight. He reprises his gangster persona of yore, and the part-Dominican, part African-American MC seems to direct rhymes at many targets, whilst intricately detailing possibly illegal operations.

The sound is hardcore. Hardcore in a sense that minimalism is employed to give you pure hiphop – there are beats, seismic bass patterns, and echoes of strings, with an occasional vocal sample to form the bedrock of a song (cf an old Nas song on ‘I Don’t Give A Fuck’) or a guest to make sure the darkness doesn’t overwhelm. And ‘9 Lives’ is certainly unlike most current hiphop in its single-minded pursuit of a feeling of claustrophobia – yes the tracks breathe, but only when AZ allows them to; mostly its voice, rhythm and decoration, nothing else.

The lack of a flashily expensive production – although what’s on show is a good, maverick and indeed innovative production – adds to the appeal of AZ’s third solo album, if you don’t count his part as a member of The Firm team.

‘Everything’s Everything’ has that soulful feeling that the combination of Joe and AZ’s deep sonorous voice (which has an in-built grain of sadness) brings. ‘That’s Real’, with Beanie Siegal in tow, also drips with hard and heavy truths. And there’s just a general atmosphere of dread, hopelessness and hard survival tactics on every song. Not only that, but it will take quite a while to fully unravel what AZ has put across – suffice to say that he has seen a lot, and there’s almost too much reality here.

Dele Fadele