What does it say about the rap game when one of its few living legends drops a near vintage album, allegedly his last, and nobody listens? Sans promotional blitz, or self-congratulatory hyperbole, Brad Jordan’s swan song succeeds where so many of his veteran peers stumble. On Emeritus, Houston’s longest tenured street scholar commandeers the sounds of the now, making them conform to his timeless style, as opposed to the other way around.
All of the talents that have made Scarface one of the most consistently compelling artists in the genre are in fine form here: brutally vivid imagery, cinematic storytelling, emotive blues tinged deliver and a deceptively straightforward flow that somehow manages to sink into just the right crevices of any beat. An influx of fresh production talent succeeds in touching up Face’s sound, but make no mistake, it is still his sound. On the Nottz produced “Can’t Get Right” crisp drums and clean keys provide a distinctly contemporary backdrop, yet the spooky vocal sample and menacing tempo set the stage for the unique hybrid of street ruminations and sociopolitical commentary that ‘Face perfected when Pac was still clownin’ around with the Underground. Illmind’s slinky synths bring palpable tension to “It’s Not A Game” as ‘Face reflects on the brutality of the streets and his own past. The gunplay here lacks the nihilistic bluster of “Murder By Reason of Insanity,” or even the calculating efficiency of “Jesse James”; this is an older, wearier ‘Face musing matter-of-factly on life, death and the gray area in between from which he has mined so many gems. He even manages to maintain his string of oddly enjoyable sex songs, directing his dark humor towards the art of macking on “High Notes.” It may be a Devin The Dude hook away from “Sex Faces” perfection, but the soulful sway of Jake One’s track makes it more than passable for that 3am drive home from the club (sober of course).
The only real flaw of Emeritus (besides the underdevelopment of the initially promising “Redemption Song”) comes in the presentation. While the beats themselves are stellar, the sonic quality is cold and sterile. Compared to the fullness of 2002’s The Fix, the mastering feels cheap and generic, undermining what should have been a dynamic listening experience for long time fans.
Still, with nothing to prove, Scarface has delivered one of the best rap albums of the year. What to make of the modest of fanfare? Well, times change. ‘Face is not “Lil,” nor is he “Young,” and in a way, it would be undignified for him to jostle with those who are (or pretend to be) for adolescent download dollars. If this retirement is legit, perhaps it is his acknowledgment that the game has moved on, and so should he. Yet, with the album’s title defined in the cover art as “retired or honorably discharged from active professional duty, but retaining the title of one’s office or position,” it is clear that ‘Face understands the magnitude of his influence, and might be leaving the door ajar for the occasional guest lecture, or even seminar course. Rap may be a young man’s game, Emeritus album proves that a true O.G. ages like the purest of moonshine.
– Jeff Harvey