Cam'ron is still one of hip-hop's quirkiest lyricists
Cameron Giles might not be hailed as one of the best rappers doing it right now, but he’s still one of the most popular. More than a decade after Diplomatic Immunity dropped and forever changed New York’s hip-hop landscape in terms of beats, slang, and the color pink, Cam’ron's significance to the national rap scene has barely budged, even if it does tend to piggyback on his past. Once ridiculed but now crowned, he’s one of the most revered and inventive MCs in the game, and despite his bland output with Vado (who’s conspicuously absent here) in recent years, Cam’s still got the hearts of listeners in his palm.
That’s why fans have been clamoring for Ghetto Heaven, Vol. 1—not only is it Cam’s first official release in more than a year, but it’s also got some of his best work since 2006’s Killa Season. And just like that era-ending LP, Cam has some choice words for his greatest rap adversary, Jay Z. Responding to Hov's backhanded mention on Nothing Was The Same, Cam grabs up Jodeci’s “Come And Talk To Me,” spitting: “He named some Harlem cats and a homie from the Chi/but my thing, he never named nobody from the Stuy.” Elsewhere, he goes on to drop pimpish quotables about pools in the car, making lemon juice out of lemons, and having a girl download his hard drive (which is a crazy vivid metaphor if you really think about it). “Going Outside” is the best song on the tape. Atop soulful production from J Money (who also services the gutter “Told You Wrong” beat), Cam’ron describes a disappointing day in the hood that starts with broken cars and elevators, evolves to random details like a tenant strike, and then climaxes with a string of abbreviations. "Saturday night, no SNL/tomorrow Sunday, no NFL/I go on Twitter/type FML,” he raps. It’s exactly the kind of quirky phrasing that sets Cam apart from other rappers and makes Ghetto Heaven such a rewarding listen.
His originality throughout the entire project makes the tape pop, but the production is also some of the most stellar work that Cam has rapped over in recent years. The trusty Skitzo serves up two minimal heaters with “Me Killa” and “Think You Need Love," both of which are highlights that hinge on finger snaps and piano keys to push Cam’s creativity to the forefront. Lizzy channels some vintage Dipset on songs like “Snapped” and “Think About It,” utilizing moaning vocal samples, while “Jungle” flips “Hakuna Matata,” as only Cam could pull off. AraabMuzik contributes some Spanish guitar and signature MPC chops on “You Know This” to remind us that he and the Diplomats ambassador still make a powerful combo, and even Cam himself loops up the theme song from “Golden Girls” for a charming ode to best buds on “Golden Friends.” The overall production reflects the approach that Cam’ron takes to his rhymes: rooted in Harlem’s bodegas, but still daring enough to sound fresh and imaginative.
Like most mixtapes, Ghetto Heaven has it’s filler—“Dat All” drags on and “Murder Game” sounds too close to Max B for comfort—but all is forgiven with the already-classic Tiff Da Gift skit (surely you’ve seen quotes on Twitter). The skit embodies the reason that Cam continues to draw crowds for both mixtapes and $150 socks: His brand of clever humor is unmatched and his uncouth metaphors continue to make listeners press rewind. Partnered with his upcoming monthly video series, which looks to capitalize on Cam’s popular online comedy presence, Ghetto Heaven, Vol. 1 lets us know that Killa Season is upon us once more. —Max Weinstein