Ten years ago yesterday (December 7), Cam’ron released his fourth album, Purple Haze, and looking back on the project, one of the less-discussed aspects of it was the production, which seemed to typify the momentous highs and lows of putting together an ambitious LP during the early aughts. By then, Cam’ron and the Diplomats were nearly three years into an era of cultural dominance that started with a handful of street corner-distributed mixtapes and had graduated to full on album releases through various record label imprints on Roc-A-Fella and Koch Records, respectively. This is all to say that the album came after Cam had finally achieved significant levels of fame and success, and the beats are reflective of that.
At the time, Cam’ron was a bigger star than Kanye West, who had already released his critically-acclaimed solo debut, The College Dropout, earlier that year, but was still nominally producing cuts for artists linked to Roc-A-Fella. The album’s lead single, “Down and Out,” co-produced by Brian “Allday” Miller, featured ‘Ye on the song’s chorus, and is full of the deep bass and rich layers of soulfulness that propped up most most of the Chicago rapper’s beats at the time. But though West and Just Blaze were largely responsible for popularizing Roc-A-Fella’s chipmunk soul sound — accomplished by speeding up soul samples — Purple Haze showcased how other producers were able to expand on that trend. To that end, there is the wistful namesake chant The Heatmakerz contribute to “Killa Cam,” and then there is also “Soap Opera,” crafted by producers Pop & Versatile, who provide Cam with a syrupy arrangement built around a melancholic guitar loop. Elsewhere, Chad Hamilton grabs some celebratory cheer culled from a portion of Marvin Gaye’s “Life’s Opera” and throws double time drums under it for “Get Down.”
But where that formula for a classic Dip Set track — half-time, skittering drum programming, burbling heavy-handed and bottom heavy over a classic soul sample — had by then become vaguely-predictable, Purple Haze also saw Cam embrace a more synthesizer-infused sound as well. He looked for radio play, perhaps failingly, by rapping over Charlemagne’s propulsive beat for “Girls,” which is built around a chord progression that attempts to mimic elements of Cyndi Lauper’s 1982 “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” While that effort fell flat, Cam achieved his goal instead by spitting over Self Service’s frenetic violin stabs on the JR Writer-assisted “Shake.” Nasty Beatmakers also check in with a sweeping cinematic backing track on “Leave Me Alone Pt. 2,” and there is the aggressive precursor to the Worldstar-inspired twerk era anthems we see now daily, “Get ‘Em Girls,” produced by Skitzo.
is not the best Cam’ron album, but it’s certainly his last truly memorable one. As Cam moved on in his career and his fame dissipated, his workman-like approach was commendable, if not remarkable. Due to its enduring popularity, the Dip Set/Roc-A-Fella sound got co-opted by every rapper with a mixtape, and Cam often filled his subsequent album and mixtape releases with beats that featured big chunky drums over brash, sparse melodies (think: AraabMuzik), their chief intent seemingly to lunge out and grab you after hearing them passingly on a mixtape or on the internet. Unfortunately, this signature move became the Harlem rapper’s achilles heel, whereby many of his songs proved momentarily enjoyable, but not terribly well-orchestrated or thought out. Thankfully, we have Purple Haze, a lasting relic to remind us what Cam is truly capable of.