(Here's a list for the ages. The first decade of our new millennium will be remembered for many things, but during these years there has been no creative form more alive, more original, and more attuned to a unique sense of craft than hiphop. Born in the late 70s, exploding with raw talent in the mid-90s, classic hiphop (like jazz and blues, an American original) reached a new level of artistic maturity and expression in the 2000s. Some may not be aware of the value of 2000s-era hiphop, but genius must never be ignored, so Literary Kicks is honoring the past decade with a countdown of its five greatest hiphop album masterpieces. We'll profile one album a week, for five weeks, beginning here with #5. -- Levi)
Some records don't fully deserve their greatness. Come Home With Me by the Harlem wordsmith Cam'ron and his Dipset crew (including Juelz Santana, Freaky Zekey and Jim Jones) is so sexually offensive in parts that one might want to hate it. But Come Home With Me is that good. Have you heard this record? On a purely sonic level, beat for beat, sample for sample, it's probably the only hiphop album from the 2000s on a level with Paul's Boutique or The Chronic. The album's ecstatic explosion of musical delight might have been sparked by the young production talent on the record -- a newcomer named Just Blaze and another newcomer named Kanye West, who were auditioning here not only for Cam'ron but for Roc-A-Fella's Dame Dash and Jay-Z (who put out the record).
Just Blaze made his name with Come Home With Me's biggest single, "Oh Boy". This entire song was built around a one-word sample (that word being "boy") from a dusty old Rose Royce track. The architecture behind the track is itself fascinating, as Cam and Juelz Santana paint watercolor washes of rhyme to illustrate the beat:
Hit me when you wanna get rammed in, I'll be scramblin
With lots of mobsters shop for lobsters
Cops and robbers listen every block is blocka-blocka
But she like the way I diddy bop you peeped that
Mink on Maury kicks plus Chanel ski hat
Just Blaze also produced the album's most haunting track, "Losing Weight Part 2" (strangely, a sequel to a track from Cam's earlier album called "Losing Weight" that isn't nearly as good). The song begins with a spoken segment, some drama between two guys working on a shady deal ("weight" refers to bricks of coke or heroin). There's a good brother and a not-so-smart brother, a classic setup, with Cam'ron and Juelz Santana playing each role:
You wanna be a hero, snuff me, do it, rush me, do it
Shit, like I ain't been through the scars and bruises
Like I ain't been through the bars, seen the Sargeant Trooper
Look at my body, I lost so much weight
Cops raiding my spot, I done lost so much weight
I'm tellin Poppy, front me a brick, let me owe that cake
He tellin me, he ain't got but so much weight
He been waiting for his connection to come
I'm like "at least give me a half, I'll compress and stretch it to one"
I'm on the block as usual
With that block that you chop and the rocks as usual
Watching for the cops that's moving through
Me and my soldiers know the rules
We use cakes to get by, buy the dudes in blue
Keep your mouth locked, screwed and glued
Or shots from the Ruger circle round your body like hula-hoops
The song is about extreme stress ... about how it feels when you've run out of good options and you know you're about to choose a bad one. The plot is indistinct, but the emotions are clear. If it were a movie, Scorsese would direct it and Steve Buscemi would have a role. It's the same story Bruce Springsteen told in "Meeting Across the River". You know the heroes are probably losers, and there's a good chance they aren't going to win whatever game they're trying to play. But you get caught up in their struggle and you want to see them get through.
Come Home With Me also features the bubbly "Hey Ma", containing some of the best rhyming dialogue and piano riffs since A Tribe Called Quest, the powerful post 9/11 tribute (the album came out in May 2002) "Welcome to New York City" (featuring Jay in a cameo from up high, before he and Cam began beefing), the crude but excellent "I Just Wanna" and the dead-on fucking hilarious "Stop Calling", which you just have to hear.
The infuriating thing about Cam the rapper is his inconsistency. On Come Home With Me he is white hot, but he sounds lazy and over-satisfied on his later work, and he's also let his great Blaze/Kanye/Juelz/Jim Jones team dissipate to the winds. No matter. The collision of the Dipset crew and Roc-A-Fella records left behind one album that will be studied by graduate students in musicology a thousand years from now, and Come Home With Me is that album.