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Review: Straight Outta Compton

via The Bull 101.7
via The Bull 101.7

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

R / 147 mins.

Biography / Drama / Music

Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell

Director: F. Gary Gray


Hip-hop wouldn’t be where it is today without the heavy influence and trailblazing nature of the rap group N.W.A.  It’s a simple fact that’s hard to dispute, no matter how hard you try.  They gave a voice to the people, a voice that people from Compton (and all over the U.S.) could rally behind in the late 80’s.  The ragtag group, consisting of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, and MC Ren, were just looking to make it big in the streets of Compton, but it was there unique message that propelled them into the country’s spotlight.

via Black FIlm
via Black FIlm

Straight Outta Compton is the story of N.W.A.’s rise to fame, directed by F. Gary Gray and produced by Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and widow Tomica Woods-Wright, wife to the late Eazy-E.  With that kind of pedigree off screen, the film already had a lot of things going for it.  This isn’t Gray’s first radio, having directed Friday with Ice Cube back in the day, and having Ice Cube and Dr. Dre producing the movie gave me full confidence that the story of the world’s most dangerous group was going to be handled with finesse and care.  The one big question when it comes to biopics is whether or not the story is worth telling.  It’s the story and the way that it’s told that can make or break a biopic.  N.W.A.’s story has been well documented and publicized up to this point, but Straight Outta Compton dives a little deeper and gives us a look not only at the group’s rise to fame, but their personal stories as well.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this movie is the top notch acting that came from a cast full of lesser-known actors.  Aside from Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays his father in the movie and Paul Giamatti’s part as the group’s manager Jerry Heller, the rest of the cast is relatively new to the scene.  Let me break it down: Dr. Dre is played by Corey Hawkins, Eazy-E by Jason Mitchell, DJ Yella by Neil Brown Jr., and MC Ren by Aldis Hodge.  The cast might not be as well known, but they all did a fantastic job at embodying the legends that they were acting as.  Obviously they had mentors in Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, but there was an incredible amount of practice and studying that went into their characters.  Their mannerisms, personalities, and musical styles were all matched pretty realistically.  Two other rappers that garner some screen time are Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac (Marcc Rose), who looks eerily similar to his real life counterpart.  It could have just been Tupac’s hologram, I don’t really know.  (I do know I am excited for Tupac’s standalone movie, where Marcc Rose will reprise his role as Tupac)

via New Pittsburgh Courier Online
via New Pittsburgh Courier Online

Another thing that was sort of surprising is that the movie really wasn’t entirely focused on N.W.A.  The first act detailed the creation of the group and its rise to prominence.  We got to see some of the situations that the guys were coming from and how much this group meant to them.  The movie then began to focus on what happened when a group of street rappers from Compton got a ton of money and a big spotlight.  Ice Cube was in disagreement with his contractual situation and decided to branch of on his own.  Dr. Dre’s vision also propelled him to leave the group and pursue his own musical genius at Death Row Records.  We also got to see Eazy-E’s relationship with the scumbag manager that was Jerry Heller.  The guy was manipulative and started cheating the group of their own money.  The scenes involving Eazy-E and Jerry were fun to watch, but also kind of depressing considering you knew that there close relationship wasn’t going to last forever.  Anybody who knows N.W.A. knew there was a lot of internal conflict between the group’s members and Straight Outta Compton manages to capture their stories with near perfect execution.

This movie couldn’t have been coming out at a better time.  The country has been experiencing a lot of turmoil when it comes to blacks living in America and police brutality.  The movie captures angst and the feelings that guys like Ice Cube and Eazy-E had towards the authorities that were looking to bring them down.  We also start to see the government’s involvement in the group’s message.  It was a scary time for the government.  They were scared that this message, reality rap, could spark a revolution in the country that they wouldn’t be able to handle.  N.W.A.’s influence on the masses was undeniable and pretty large.

via Black Film
via Black Film

I was pleasantly surprised that the movie, which has a pretty long run time, went as far as to cover Eazy-E’s struggle with HIV and his imminent death.  Those last moments with Eazy-E on his death bed and guys like Ice Cube and Dr. Dre coming in to say their goodbyes were heartfelt and, at times, hard to watch.  Straight Outta Compton is a fantastic movie that will most likely take the torch as my favorite movie of the year so far.  It’s a gritty story full of hardship and triumph.  Dr. Dre and Ice Cube have coming a long way from their gangbanging days and their stories, along with the rest of N.W.A, are unresistingly intriguing and fun to watch.  You will probably appreciate this movie more if you are a fan of rap, but don’t let that be your barrier to entry.  Straight Outta Compton is a movie worth watching no matter where your musical tastes lie.

Straight Outta Compton

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Review: Compton: The Soundtrack

via Rap God
via Rap God

Compton: The Soundtrack (2015)

Dr. Dre

Rap / Hip-Hop

Aftermath / Interscope


When’s the last time Dr. Dre released an album?  You’re telling me it’s been sixteen years?  It seems kind of crazy when you say it, but in fact it has been over sixteen years since the rapper/producer and former member of N.W.A. has released an official studio album.  His name has not been forgotten in that time, but musically he has been silent for a long time.  Now that his final album, Compton: The Soundtrack, has been released, the musical silence has officially come to an end.  You would think that Dre would be a little rusty on the hinges after all those years, but he delivers in every aspect, giving us what some have already been saying an “instant classic.”

What does a Dr. Dre album look like in the year 2015?  He’s come a long way since his rabble-rousing days roaming the streets of Compton with N.W.A.  He’s brought up some of the best names in hip-hop, most notably Eminem.  He has also produced a pretty honorable library of albums that hold a lot of regard critically.  Compton, the rapper’s grand finale showing, gives us a taste of old and new and aims to please everybody’s tastes.

via Hip-Hop n More
via Hip-Hop n More

Compton is like a personal ride through the city streets of Compton, with Dr. Dre rolling in the driver’s seat.  As you make your way through the city, which has gone through its fair share of triumphs and hardships, Dre earnestly tells a story full of recollections of past memories, reflective analyzations of the present, and glimpses of the opportunistic future.  Dre realizes the position that he stands in and the kind of influence that he has on the masses and he runs forward with eagerness and passion, without ever forgetting his humble and pain ridden beginnings.

The album, from beginning to end, contains almost no slip ups.  Dr. Dre is still sharp as ever and his classic flow comes back like a nostalgic knockout punch.  To my surprise, Dre leaves a lot of room for others on the album, both old and new, giving them room to breathe.  Former member of N.W.A. Ice Cube makes a loud appearance on “Issues,” a track that looks at the current state of rap and pretty much disses the entirety of it.  Dr. Dre puts it simply: “Man this industry to me, it feels like plastic.  I ain’t heard nothin’ that I’d consider a classic.”  Although it’s only a snippet, we also hear the voice of Eazy-E, one of the most iconic voices from N.W.A.   Snoop Dogg makes two appearances as well, providing lyrical back-up on songs like “One Shot, One Kill” and “Satisfiction,” a fitting look at the fake satisfaction that comes with the rap lifestyle.  Finally, “Loose Cannons” features the like of Cold 187um and Xzibit, who both give pompous performances on a track with an extremely dark ending. It was these features that really brought back the sound that we all came to know and love from back in the days.

via Softpedia News
via Softpedia News

There were also features from current hip-hop powerhouses like Eminem and Kendrick Lamar.  Lamar shares a lot in common with Dre, being that there both from the same hood, with his lyrics reflecting that.  “Darkside / Gone” and “Deep Water” are two tracks that the West Coast rapper appears on, but the most notable song is “Genocide.”  Dr. Dre, Lamar, Candice Pillay, and Marsha Ambrosius give a chilling, but real account of one of the biggest problems that the city of Compton faces; the murder rate.  Towards the end of the album, Dre and Eminem team up for probably one of the best tracks on the album; “Medicine Man.”  Dr. Dre gives us a great verse, but it’s Eminem that really takes the song by the reigns, delivering a fantastic verse that, in classic Shady fashion, covers a lot of ground in little time.  At this point, it’s almost like Eminem can do no wrong.  However, the song contains some alarming lyrics that made me frown.  Lines like “I even make the bitches I rape come” are not the kinds of lyrics that will go unnoticed.  There might be backlash, there might not be, but either way it still doesn’t bode well with most.

I have to give major props to some of the new talent that gets a lot of time on the album to shine.  Justus, Anderson .Paak, Marsha Ambrosius, and King Mez are all up-and-coming artists with a whole lot to prove.  Dre takes them under his wing and gives them a chance to take the spotlight on a number of songs on the album.  Songs like “Talk About It” and “It’s All on Me” are two of the tracks that really stick out.  Anderson .Paak truly makes a name for himself on “Animals,” a song that dives into the problems that black people face on a daily basis.  It’s well-trodden ground at this point, especially given the events that have transpired this year, but .Paak manages to demand your attention.

via Okay Player
via Okay Player

The journey through the city concludes with the finale, “Talking to My Diary.”  It’s a fitting end to our ride with Dre through his city of Compton.  As he flips through the pages of his work, he takes one final gaze at the road that he has travelled behind him and looks into the future with eagerness.  Compton shows that the rapper, although dormant for more than a decade, still has what it takes to grab listeners by neck and show them what real rap sounds like. I may not agree with his line about there being no classics out there today, especially given the amazing year of rap that we have had so far.  With that being said, I can agree that Dr. Dre has given us an epic final swan song, a masterpiece that has indeed earned classic status.

compton score

Review: Bush

via missinfo.tv
via missinfo.tv

Bush (2015)

Snoop Dogg

Funk / West Coast Hip-Hop

Doggystyle / i am OTHER / Colombia


When it comes to the classic west coast sound, arguably no one does it better than Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams.  The news that Snoop’s Bush would be entirely produced by Pharrell was good news, because Pharrell is one hot producer right now.  Bush is the rapper’s thirteenth studio album and it gets some things right, but largely did not stand out in the grand scope of the west coast rapper’s discography.

Snoop brings the funk 110% with a mix of hip-hop and R&B.  Any fan of Pharrell’s previous work will feel right at home, with a lot of real familiar sound that stays in touch with the producer’s past work.  It is a rather short offering, with a track list of ten songs all about getting high, among other things.  What else would you expect from Snoop?  He manages to provide a nice flow on the tracks, giving us a different sounding Snoop when compared to some of his previous work.

via The Stashed
via The Stashed

The beats are nice, with Pharrell providing a nice does of funky flavor along with some poppy instrumentals.  Its party music, and it will most definitely want to make you get off your feet.  Songs like “Peaches N Cream,” “So Many Pros,” and “This City” will make it hard for you to stand still.  They were some of the strongest tracks from the album.

Perhaps one of my favorite tracks comes with Snoop’s collaboration with rappers Rick Ross and Kendrick Lamar.  The two are probably some of the hottest in the game right now, and they live up to the hype by providing the heat on “I’m Ya Dogg.”  As always, Kendrick Lamar continues to showcase his trademark flow over his power punch of a verse and Rick Ross just continues to be a boss.

via The Stashed
via The Stashed

When most of your songs on the album sound the same, it’s hard to keep the party fresh.  A lot of songs off the album fell into a pool of mediocrity and just sound like top 40 wannabe’s.  That is the kind of vibe that I got from the album.  It seems like Snoop and Pharrell were trying to make an entire album that sounds like the kinds of songs that you would currently find on the top 40 airwaves.  Although this works for some of the tracks, like the ones I mentioned previously, the idea does not work as well as they would expect.

I probably struggled the hardest with what to say about the album.  I did not hate it, but I did not find it overly enjoyable either.  There really is not too many words to describe Bush.  The album has a cool California sound to it, but most of the songs did not manage to keep my attention for long.  This is not Snoop’s best piece of work, but there is some things that you can find to like about it.

bush score

The Weekly Drop: 4/18/15

This week saw the release of Tyler, the Creator’s album Cherry Bomb along with a mix and match of other singles as well.  Trey Songz delivered a surprise mixtape Intermission, and Rihanna released her newest single from her upcoming album, “American Oxygen.”  Here is what came out this week…


via Zumic
via Zumic

“American Oxygen”

Rihanna

Buy

Technically the song came out on April 5th on the new Tidal Music platform, but I was not really a fan of Tidal, so I decided to wait till it was available everywhere.  With that being said, this patriotic and energetic song is actually pretty good.  It is pretty significant because Rihanna, the island girl herself, is a black immigrant of the United States.  The song, which served as the theme song for March Madness, is about achieving the American Dream.  The song also has some obvious influences from Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.”  “American Oxygen” gets me pretty excited for what is to come with Rihanna’s #R8, her highly anticipated next album, but this should do till then.


via Deezer
via Deezer

“Addicted to a Memory”

Zedd (feat. Bahari)

Stream

“Addicted to a Memory” is Zedd’s second offering off his new album True Colors which comes out on the 19th of this month.  It is a “what could have been” type of song, which has Bahari reflecting on a relationship that probably did not go as planned.  It has a deep techno kind of feel with a drop that will shake any dance club.  It started to run a little long towards the end, but overall it felt like a Zedd song.


via Josepvinaixa
via Josepvinaixa

“Darker than Blood”

Steve Aoki (feat. Linkin Park)

Pass

The other EDM track to come out this week came from the rage inducer Steve Aoki himself, along with the surprise help of Linkin Park.  This is not the first time that we have had rock mixed with electronic music, but it did not feel quite right with “Darker than Blood.”  The song, which supposedly has been in production for almost two years, did not quite have the effect that I thought it would have.  The song sounds like Steve Aoki, as well as Linkin Park.  It just made me realize that the song probably would have sounded better separated.  I would have rather had Steve Aoki release the song by himself, with Linkin Park doing the same.  Then we could have had a comparison.


via Dj Booth
via Dj Booth

“So Many Pros”

Snoop Dogg

Pass

Bush is on its way, and Snoop seems to be making a comeback, albeit with a new sound.  His second single “So Many Pros” has similarities to his other single “Peaches and Cream,” which makes it apparent that the album is going to have a smooth and more “pop-y” feel to it.  “So Many Pros” has production from Pharrell Williams, and some back up vocals from the talented Charlie Wilson.  It brought me back to Snoop’s earlier ballad “Sensual Seduction,” but “So Many Pros” failed to do it for me.  It just sounded like a tired and lazy pop song with little to no rap at all.  If I did not know better, I would not have guessed that it was a Snoop Dogg song.


via Rap Dose
via Rap Dose

“Best Friend”

Yelawolf (feat. Eminem)

Buy

I have a strong feeling that Yelawolf has a good album coming our way to add to the collection of great hip hop albums that have come out this year.  “Best Friend” is his latest single from the upcoming release, which includes the only feature on the album; and no one better to fill that role than Slim Shady himself.  The two sound great together on the track, with Yelawolf getting a little more spiritual while Eminem delivers his trademark aggressive rhymes.  There’s a overarching spiritual tone to the song, which makes me excited for the kind of territory that the southern rapper will cover on Love Story.


via MWM Forum
via MWM Forum

Intermission

Trey Songz

Stream

Trey Songz noted on his Twitter that he feels like he is at his best whenever he releases surprise music for his fans.  The mixtape, which could be called an EP, features a small collection of songs from the R&B singer.  Some of my favorites from the release are “Don’t Play” and “Talk About It.”  They both do the job of being pretty alright R&B songs.  The others on the EP are not knock-outs, but they were not bad.  Intermission was not Trey Songz at his absolute best, but he gives his fans something to grapple to during their wait for his upcoming project.

Review: Empire Season 1

via fanart.tv
via fanart.tv

Empire Season 1 (2015)

TV14 / Fox

Drama / Music

Starring: Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Jussie Smollett

Creators: Lee Daniels, Danny Strong


When I sat down and watched the first episode of Empire I had no clue where it was going to end up.  It could have been a surprise hit, or a complete failure; I was not sure.  It had a unique spin on the family drama sphere of television, one that chronicled the life of a family in the hip-hop music business.  If only I knew the raging wildfire that the show ended up turning into as succeeding weeks went on.

The show, which gives us a glimpse of the glamorous lifestyle of the Lyons family, proved to get bigger and bigger every single week.  Every week, they would release the numbers and they just seemed unrealistic.  How could a show do this good?  How could a show continue to receive more viewers every week, without going down in ratings?  The pilot was watched by around 9.8 million viewers and the finale clocked in at about 16.7 million viewers, without ever taking any dips or stumbles.  The show, on its quick rise to the top, ended up crushing records, including the record for highest rated season finale by a first year show, which was previously held by the Grey’s Anatomy for its first season in 2005.  The show now stands as TV’s highest rated and most popular show out there, and it’s only just begun for the crew at Empire Records.

via ibtimes.com
via ibtimes.com

Lucious Lyons (Terrence Howard), the owner of Empire Records, is the star of the show.  We find out in the first episode that he is diagnosed with the chronic illness that is ALS.  The one thing we learn throughout the show is that Lucious is not a man to go down without swinging.  He’s a fighter.  He wants to take his record company public, but in order to do that, he needs to find someone to take the throne.  His three sons, Andre (Trai Byers), Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), and Jamal (Jussie Smollett), have to pretty much earn their dad’s trust and respect in order to get a piece of his empire.

We also have the character of Cookie, played by Taraji P. Henderson.  If you have not watched the show, but manage to stay up to date with pop culture discussion, you have probably already heard of Cookie’s character.  With hash tags like #ShitCookieSays, it is easy to see why Cookie was one of my favorite characters from the series.  She is the ex-husband of Lucious who was put into jail because of her and Lucious’s past in the hood.  She was sentenced to seventeen years in jail, all while Lucious built up his Empire, calling it his own.  We see in the show however, that this is not so much the case, and that Cookie has had a big part in the label’s success.  When she gains freedom from the precinct in the first episode, it is immediately care that she is not going to let Lucious have all the fun with Empire’s success.  She wants a part of it too.

via opdnewsfeed.com
via opdnewsfeed.com

The show contains all sorts of themes, including greed, power, and the flashy lifestyle that comes with the hip-hop industry.  It is these kinds of things that separate the show from other family dramas.  It made the show much more interesting to watch.  There were numerous points throughout the season where everybody seems to have their own motives in mind when carrying out their actions.  This leads to lots of juicy conflict and literal hair-pulling drama, especially in the last couple of episodes.  Cookie and Anika Calhoun (Grace Gealey), Lucious’ head of A&R, have a tense relationship and this relationship often provided us some of the best moments from the show.

There are two things that probably contribute to the massive success behind the show, and that is the show’s edgy plotlines, as well as the rich music.  The show, on top of the concepts that I mentioned before, travels to some areas where most shows would never think to go.  Lucious Lyon demonstrates his homophobic nature whenever his son Jamal comes out.  We also see his disdain for white women with Andre’s relationship with his wife Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday).  These two plotlines come up frequently throughout the first season and they painted Lucious Lyon in a pretty negative light.  I applaud the show for hitting these types of themes though, because the show had a lot to say about them.  I think it handled them well.  It is these kinds of themes that permeate the hip-hop industry, which is why it would make sense to tackle them in a show like Empire.  As Lucious says, “hip-hop is controversy.”

via Rolling Stone
via Rolling Stone

Rapper and producer Timbaland was the guy behind Empire’s amazing soundtrack, which includes genres like hip-hop, rap, r&b, and gospel.  If you are making a show about music, you have to make sure that you get the music nailed down right, and Empire gave us a formidable soundtrack, knocking it out of the park.  Hakeem, an up-and-coming rapper, and Jamal, the passionate r&b singer, provided some great musical hits, as well as some of the supporting cast.  The show even featured some cameo performances from the likes of Jennifer Hudson (who actually played the role of Andre’s musical therapist), Estelle, Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg, Rita Ora, Juicy J, as well as others.  The music was so good, that there is talks about producing a concert series featuring the show’s hit music.

As the show went on, the plot twists and deep intertwined drama started to get more and more intense.  The last four episodes where edge-of-your-seat enthralling and rattling television.  The one gripe I started to have was that some of these riveting twists and turns seemed a little cheap.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but things start to suddenly look up for Lucious by the second to last episode, completely out of the blue.  They used a convenient plot device to make the show more interesting for its second season.  This might be hard to argue with, but I wish they could have handled it with a more realistic solution.  There were a ton of other cheap and convenient plot twists that served the purpose of moving things along towards what looks to be an intense season two.

via Billboard
via Billboard

I started to get the sense that Empire realized how big it was getting.  The first couple of episodes were interesting and entertaining, but as the ratings started to skyrocket towards the sky, so did the show’s vision and scope.  You could almost see the show evolving before your eyes as it drove towards the fantastic finale.  It was a show that gripped me from the get-go, and it kept me wrangled towards the very end.  As the final credits started to role after its thirteenth and final episode of the season, I just felt myself hungry for more.  Season two cannot come sooner enough.  Empire is one of the few shows that can be considered “must watch TV.”  If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend catching up on the first season, because I can only feel that the show is going to get bigger as season two takes the stage this fall, or next spring…but hopefully next fall.

via realitywives.net
via realitywives.net

****SPOILERS BELOW****

The finale pretty much presented us with the main skeleton behind season two.  When Lucious, after realizing he does not have ALS anymore, gives the throne to Jamal, Andre and Hakeem are not too pleased.  They want to do what is considered a “hostile takeover.”  They join forced with Cookie and Anika to basically bring down Jamal and Lucious’ empire.

In the final couple of scenes, we see that Lucious’ dark past catches up to him when justice is finally done.  He is arrested for his murder of their cousin Bunkie and is sent to jail during his tribute concert.  This is bad news for Empire, the newly public company.  This only means that season two is going to be a story of revenge for Lucious.  He is going to use these recent forthcomings as fuel for his comeback.  Season two is going to be one hell of a season if the series’ creators can play the right cards.

*************************

empire season 1 score

Review: Blacc Hollywood

blacc hollywoodLet me tell you about a place called Blacc Hollywood.  It’s a place reserved for the rich and famous.  The successful.  You can almost consider it a lifestyle.  Let me also tell you about a rapper named Wiz Khalifa.  He embodies the Blacc Hollywood mantra.  He’s the man that runs the town.

Blacc Hollywood, Wiz Khalifa’s fifth studio album, has a ton to like.  There is a little bit for everyone this time around.  There’s something for those who liked Trap Wiz, Wiz’s last mixtape, and there’s something for the people who are familiar with the old, ganja-smoking Wiz.  It seems that Wiz has formulated all that is old and new and put it into one style that is unique to just Wiz Khalifa himself.

Anyway, lets get to the music shall we.  The album features the likes of Ty Dollar $ign, Juicy J, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg, Schoolboy Q, and much more.  They all offer great back up to Wiz, especially Taylor Gang’s own Chevy Woods.  In fact, I see a lot of potential for Chevy Woods.  He has a lot of talent and him and Wiz work pretty well together.

“We Dem Boyz” can probably be summed up as the anthem and the theme song for the album.  This can be a good and bad thing though.  It has a catchy beat but the song gets repetitive after a while.  I actually prefer the remix that is featured later on in the album.  It includes the likes of Rick Ross, Schoolboy Q, and Nas and it slows down the original song for a pretty cool sounding remix.  It’s probably one of my favorite songs on the album.

However, it’s songs like “Promises” and “Stayin Out All Night” that really showcase the artistic skills of Wiz.  He provides the vocals that really make those songs hum.  They sound great and they offer something more diversified.  On the other hand, songs like “Ass Drop” and “True Colors” are the club bangers that have some great beats, but that’s about it.

We see the lifestyle that Wiz is living through songs like “The Sleaze” and “Raw”.  He and his crew, the Taylor Gang have made it and they aren’t afraid to brag about it.  They’re living the life of Blacc Hollywood.  As for the fans of old Wiz, there’s still those marijuana-infused songs throughout like “So High” and “Kk”.  Wiz can’t live without those greens.  That’s something that hasn’t changed.

Blacc Hollywood is impressive.  I started listening to it with the mindset that it was going to be sub-par; that Wiz didn’t really have it in him.  I was proved wrong, and I am glad that I was.  I also started to notice something as I was listening through.  I got the impression that perhaps Wiz has gotten some inspiration from Snoop Dogg in his life.  He does in fact appear on the album anyway.  It wouldn’t surprise me, because I believe that one day, Wiz might just become the next Snoop Dogg…and that’s a good thing.