On New Year’s Day 2010, also known as one of my “It’s OK to be hungover” days (right along with el Seis de Mayo), I woke up to one of the most memorable sports stories ever: Gilbert Arenas and Javarris Crittenton of the Washington Wizards pulling guns on each other in the locker room over a gambling debt. While this may sound like a lazy Sunday with my homies, apparently it’s a big deal and frowned upon in most cultures. So while David Stern freaked out and threw suspensions like Zeus and his lightning bolts, I was left looking into my spicy Bloody Mary thinking, “Wow, they’re setting the bar for crazy sports stories really high, really early.” Competition came in the form of Brett Favre pulling a Kanye with Jenn Sterger and various other examples of ridiculousness, but the Arenas/Crittenton story was cemented a place in the top 10 off top simply because of how crazy it was.
The same rules apply to music. Joell Ortiz’s Free Agent is the first album I listened to this year and it set the bar pretty damn high. Ortiz means business, illustrated by using the album’s first bar to address his label issues with Aftermath (funny how he winds up back there with Shady Records). By the time he’s done ripping the intro, we’re thrown right into the Lox-assisted “Put Some Money On It”, which evokes strong memories of the Jay-Z/Lox/Beans/Sauce Money classic “Reservoir Dogs”. Sheek Louch gets a high-five from me for his line “I’m on BET more than Leprechaun 3” because I know what he meant, despite him being incorrect. Leprechaun in the Hood, the fifth in the series, was on BET NONSTOP.
In addition to the Lox, fellow NY stalwarts Fat Joe, DJ Premier and Large Professor are featured, giving the album additional East Coast cred. Ortiz also reached out to neighboring New Jersey for Just Blaze, who is churning out absolute BANGERS, to produce the album’s single, “Battle Cry.” The production is crisp, ranging from the soulful “Call Me” and “Good Man is Gone” to a vintage DJ Premier production in “Sing Like Bilal”. Ortiz doesn’t try get cute with a club song, instead he appeals to the ladies with a fun puppy love track in “Call Me”, sampling the classic Al Green track of the same name. His eschewing of the formulaic “banger, club dance song, something for the ladies, then add filler” that plagues so many albums out there goes a long way to maintaining the flow of the album, which is only interrupted by skits (please stop them, rappers. I’m begging you. If they’re not legitimately funny á la “Ed-Ucation” on 2001 or they’re not vital to setting up the next track, lose them).
Free Agent hits all the right notes in presenting itself as a classic, throwback New York-styled album that appeals to the constituency who proclaimed hip-hop to be dead and called for a return to the old ways. The difference between this album and many that have come before it is that Free Agent sounds so much more organic than other similar boom-bap projects that aimed to bring New York back. While many of those albums were made with the intent to resurrect or pay homage to the East Coast sound, Free Agent is just Joell Ortiz making his music and recording an album that happens to sound, smell, and feel like the real thing, not an interpretation or tribute to the golden years. Rather, Ortiz succeeds in creating his own golden era in 2011.[audio:http://potholesinmyblog.flywheelsites.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/02.-Put-Some-Money-On-It-feat.-Sheek-Louch-Jadakiss-Styles-P-Explicit.mp3|titles=Put Some Money On It (feat. Sheek Louch, Jadakiss & Styles P)]
4.5 out of 5