1. Intro (feat. NaS) // 2. Uncut Raw // 3. Gimme Yours (feat. NaS) // 4. Ho Happy Jackie // 5. Rather Unique // 6. I Feel For You (feat. Erica Scott) // 7. Sugar Hill (feat. Miss Jones) // 8. Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide (feat. NaS) // 9. Doe or Die // 10. We Can’t Win (feat. Amar Pep) // 11. Your World Don’t Stop // 12. Sugar Hill [Remix]
Making your recording debut on an instant undeniable classic album can be a mixed blessing. It happened to Brooklyn rapper Anthony “AZ” Cruz. His first bars the world actually got to hear were on the NaS song Life’s a Bitch off Illmatic. Since instantaneously became a thing in the hiphop-genre and AZ assisted him Anthony was seen as Nasir’s sidekick back in the day. Worse still, today he is mostly seen as “that guy who used to be NaS sidekick”. Life’s a Bitch, ain’t it?
On the plus side, since that particular guest-appearance was well received Anthony got to record a rap album that had his name and face on the front cover. What’s more. Because everyone in hiphop had heard Life’s a Bitch and liked it the album was heavily anticipated. When it dropped Doe or Die was hyped as being the next thing in the Illmatic franchise, which was supposed to be a good thing. In part this is true since some of Illmatic‘s personnel such as producers Pete Rock and L.E.S. as well as NaS himself are involved in Doe or Die‘s creation and tracks such as Rather Unique or the non-included, less polished, original version of Your World Don’t Stop definitely sound like NaS debut has inspired them.
On the other hand hiphop hadn’t stopped evolving during the 17 month gap between Illmatic and Doe or Die. There was Wu-Tang rapper Raekwon who had taken the gun-toting thug that had been gangster rap’s archetype ever since Str8 Outta Compton had taken the world by storm and replaced his 40OZ with a glass of Dom Perignon and his Dickies suit with a Versace one. Mafioso rap was born. On the other the Notorious B.I.G. had made it acceptable for hard-ass gangstas to make songs that sounded a lot like *gulp* R&B.
So Doe or Die, being in line with these trends, is trying to be a more expensive-ass sounding gangsta rap record, as if it were recorded by a cocaine kingpin, rather than a small time crack dealer, and it doesn’t shy away from pop sounds. This album as such wasn’t as much Illmatic‘s sequel as it was It Was Written…‘s prequel. Keeping record sales in mind isn’t always a bad thing and Sugar Hill, the single that sold Doe or Die is a prime piece of R&B rap with L.E.S. smooth mellow beat, R&B singer Miss Jones’ melodious hook and AZ’s lyrics about dreaming of having shiploads of money and kicking it all blending wonderfully and it did go gold for a reason (Today this shit wouldn’t have had a ghost of a chance of making it as a hit single, since, disregarding this day’s different production values, lyrical rap doesn’t have a place on either the radio or video channels. And I am convinced that there are people ou there that would consider Sugar Hill both old school and hardcore… Groan…)
The album’s other attempt at radio song featuring R&B chick: I Feel For You doesn’t fare so well. Oh well, at least AZ had one good commercial hit-single in him.
A lot of the other songs contain some pretty worn out hiphop clichés, such as Uncut Raw which is about drug trafficking, Ho Happy Jackie which is about promiscuous women, Gimme Yours and Sugar Hill which are about getting money by any means and the illuminati who are discussed on We Can’t Win. Although it might seem that AZ goes through a checklist of standard hiphop subjects on Doe or Die he doesn’t run out of ideas or ever sound uninspired. His trademark flow and high-toned smooth voice remain interesting to listen to throughout this album’s 45 minutes. It just that you do get some bullshit and nonsense with AZ’s clever wordplay. Catchy bullshit and nonsense, but bullshit and nonsense nonetheless. Nowhere does Anthony spit such a flawless salvo as Nasir does on Halftime.
The instrumentals are also quite good. Pete Rock rocks some dirty drums and an angelic harp on Gimme Yours and some minimal melody on Rather Unique. Buckwild loops a horn-hit on Ho Happy Jackieand N.O. Joe produces some G-funk lite on the title track. However good the beats may be here there’s nothing as grand as N.Y. State of Mind, Life’s a Bitch or It Ain’t Hard to Tell‘s beats.
NaS pops up some three times but doesn’t overpower our host anywhere. In fact his dialogue on the intro and his singing on Gimme Yours‘s hook is lame as fuck. And when they do rhyme together on Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide they sound equally good as they did on Life’s a Bitch.
In short: Doe or Die is pretty good stuff. AZ and Doe or Die couldn’t really compete with Nas and Illmatic if they wanted to, but it doesn’t seem that this is what the people who created this were trying to do. In fact Doe or Die is very much its own creature. And it’s a quite enjoyable one at that.
Gimme Yours, Rather Unique, Sugar Hill, Doe or Die, *Your World Don’t Stop [Original Version]
*Not on any incarnation of the Doe or Die album, still well worth the 5 seconds it takes to find it on the internet as the less-polished original version version of Your World Don’t Stop sounds hella better than the version that ended up on Doe or Die because of the inclusion of a sax sample and less annoying backing vocals, and it definitely would’ve pushed Doe Or Die over the 80, were it included on the album. Damn you hindsight, right?
Buy this album.