Ja Rule/Caz

Ja Rule

Rule 3:36

Def Jam

Caz

Thundadome

Warlock

When the drummer from Minneapolis proto-punkers the Trashmen stepped up to the mic to sing the sand-gargling classic “Surfin’ Bird” in 1963, surely someone could have surely predicted the sessions would have some effect of garage rock. But hip hop? Although Magoo and Everlast have both taken to name-checking the tune, the influence is more evident in the gruff, rugged, Tom Waits-meets-tracheotomy hoarseness in the brash vocals of current hit-makers D.M.X., Mystikal, and grime-originator ex-Onyx rasper Sticky Fingaz. In rap, raspy equates to brash, brash equates to realness, and realness equates to hits.

The scratchy-throated Ja Rule has changed his role as the gravelly voice of mayhem shouting confrontational missives like “Fuck with the wolves you get hunted like prey” on 1999’s Venni Vetti Vecci into a gushy, softened thug: a melancholy ruffian in a bandana with the message of “Every thug needs a lady.” The majority of Rule 3:36 has Ja emulating the sing-songy routine of Swizz Beats, especially the infectious single “Between Me and You,” to little effect other than creating catchy, disposable hip-pop. On the other hand, Rule’s exalted rasp on the Scarface-esque gangsta bleatings of “Watching Me” and “6 Feet Under” succeed in capturing Venni Vetti Vecci‘s smoldering intensity with Irv Gotti faux-grunge production and a hung-down nod to the bleakness of early Notorious B.I.G.

Ja Rule’s throaty delivery comes off like a wall a pop-star hides behind to emote pseudo-gangsterisms, but the rasp of L.A.’s Caz is a genuine diabolical growl with bulldozer insurgence. Raised under Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate, Caz delivers with intensity and articulate hoodster ethos over crushing G-funk. Throughout the album, despite frequent gangsta shoot-’em-ups, Caz takes a developed eye attacking both materialism and violence, incredulously proclaiming “You niggas done fucked up things in the West/I ain’t never got in this game to be wearin’ a vest” on the fisticuffs-funk of the title track. Although Thundadome is redolent of much of today’s gangsta-pop (complete with countless cameos), Caz’s confident delivery and clever cadence (“Skippin’ down the highway sideways/I’m radically, sporadically hitting bustas up automatically“) makes his sandpapered throat a welcome voice.

Def Jam, 825 Eighth Ave, New York, NY 10019; Warlock Records, Inc., 126 5th Ave., 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10011.

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