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Album review: Cam'ron's 'Crime Pays'

May 20, 2009 | 12:17 pm

CamronFrom the gilded age glide of his Mase-aided debut single “Horse and Carriage” to his 2002 commercial climax on the Kanye West- and Just Blazed-produced “Come Home With Me” to the absurdist arrogance of his masterpiece, 2004’s “Purple Haze,” to the anomic drift of 2006’s “Killa Season,” Harlem’s purple pharaoh Cam’ron has always remained tethered to the contemporary rap zeitgeist, despite presumably orbiting an alternate solar system from mere mortals. So it’s fitting that with the nation still mired in recession, “Crime Pays” plays like Econo-Cam.

With its barely sublimated theme of doing more with less, lead single “I Hate My Job” sets the mien. Despite never having brought a brown bag (filled with food) to work, the Dipset founder rattles off a surprisingly empathetic and poignant litany of grievances about the work-a-day grind.

Indeed, the scaled-down nature of “Crime Pays” is salient throughout. Whereas the formerly fur-draped, Lamborghini-swerving Cam once depended on the lush rainfall of A-listers like West, Blaze and chipmunk soul mimics the Heatmakerz, he’s turned almost exclusively to anonymous bodegarap proprietors Skitzo and Araab Muzik. Cam’s former Diplomats kinsmen are also glaringly absent, with both Juelz Santana and Jim Jones gone to frolic in greener, Champagne-soaked pastures.

But through the sheer warped glee of his demented imagination and a showy but subtle commitment to authorial craft, Cam’ron molds “Crime Pays” into an arresting, if not scattershot, affair. Ignore sub-Zaytoven Southern bangers like “Cookies and Apple Juice” or trendy trance-rap failure “Spend the Night Away” and instead focus on Cam’s trademark combination of bloody-nosed crime raps, gonzo skits and gleeful internal rhymes that have allowed him to purchase more fur than Jacques Cartier.

Cam bounces syllables off each other in many of his compositions, including a titular introduction that sharply reworks Snoop Dogg’s “G’Z and Hustlaz,” and the steel-gray, drug-slinging sojourn “Get It In Ohio." Even if cost-cutting has forced him to shoot his bombastic blockbuster raps in Super 8, it’s hard not to smile at the line “silencer on calibers/but I do it louder, bruh/sledgehammers crash his melon/I’m the black Gallagher.” Which isn't even touching his Tom Green-bizarre, expletive-laden and unprintable skits — interludes that provide welcome comic relief and illustrate that the hipster- and huckster-filled genre still has a few genuine eccentrics left.

In its first week on the Billboard charts, “Crime Pays” sold 42,000 copies — good enough for No. 3. Hopefully, Cam’ron will sink the dividends into production value for next time.

--Jeff Weiss

“Crime Pays"
Diplomat Records/Asylum Records
3 stars