It's hard to believe it's been six long years since Big Noyd released his critically acclaimed EP "Episodes Of A Hustla" in 1997. At the time who would have thought the album would be the last the listening public saw of Noyd for years to come. One of the main reasons for such a long delay was the attempted murder charge Noyd was face with, which ultimately halted his rise to stardom. However, through all the turmoil and distractions Noyd has always been that dark, mysterious figure who seems to steal every track he's featured on. With a commanding and intimidating presence, along with impeccable charisma, Noyd has always been one of Q.B.'s best emcees. Now finally after years of waiting Noyd is ready to step out of the shadows and make a name for himself with his full-length debut "Only The Strong".
With "Only The Strong" we witness an album that is unlike those previously released from the Mobb Deep camp. Those expecting that grimy, dark Q.B. feel of "Episodes Of A Hustla" may be very disappointed with the sounds featured on "Only The Strong" as the album lacks that gritty, haunting edge expected. Unlike recently released Mobb albums such as "Free Agents" & The Infamous Mobb's "Special Edition", "Only The Strong" features production that doesn't quite fit the usual Q.B. sound. With an album fully produced by Havoc, Alchemist and Noyd himself, most would assume the production on "Only The Strong" would be flawless. However, that is not the case, as the production aspect actually holds the album back from truly being an outstanding release. While the production isn't bad, it's definitely not up to the usual standards of Havoc & Alchemist. Maybe too much is asked out of the two production geniuses, but with Havoc & Alchemist producing your album you expect greatness and nothing else.
Alchemist particularly offers a disappointing effort on tracks such as "N.O.Y.D." & "Noyd Holdin' It Down". The more commercial sounds of "Noyd Holdin' It Down" is especially lackluster, as Alchemist laces the track with one of his worst production efforts ever. The track's bouncy production fails to capture that raw, intense Big Noyd atmosphere he is all too known for. Not to mention the songs hook, which is down right embarrassing for a Big Noyd track. The self-titled "N.O.Y.D." is another one of the album's worst cuts thanks to a second case of the "lame hook's disease". The irritating computerized voice used for the hook will do nothing but make you wonder what Noyd & Alchemist were thinking from the get go. The only other misstep along the way is the self produced "Something For All That" where Noyd & Prodigy go back and forth trading average verses that will do nothing but put you to sleep in the end.
But do these disappointments in the production aspect transfer into a sub par album for Noyd? Thankfully it doesn't, as Noyd manages to overcome some average production and turn "Only The Strong" into a good release. While the production may not be what fans expected, Noyd does give us some outstanding efforts that ultimately overshadow the disappointing ones. "Shoot "Em Up Pt. 1 & 2" are the album's finest cut's, both of which are produced masterfully by Alchemist. Part 1 is Noyd's solo effort, as he rides the Alchemist produced track with his graceful yet intense flow. The vintage Alchemist vocal sample really makes the track standout, giving it a perfect feel. However, not to be outdone is Part 2, which features The Infamous Mobb Deep. Just like Part 1, the track's second installment features a great vocal sample. However, this time Alchemist switches the production up with some infectious hand claps that will surely have your head nodding until it can no longer move.
Besides Alchemist, Havoc lends a great deal of his production to the album as well. However, like Alchemist, Havoc's production on "Only The Strong" is solid but not that of his usual mold. "Watch Out" & "We Gangsta" are both nice production efforts that Noyd utilizes well. However, long time Mobb Deep fans will be quick to point out each track lacks that distinct, dark and sinister feel Havoc is known for. And while Noyd is known for his usual Q.B. thug antics, "All 4 The Luv Of The Dough" featuring Prodigy shows a different side of Noyd, the more insightful one rarely seen. Just like previous Mobb classics such as "Where Ya Heart At", "Veteran's Memorial" & "Never Feel My Pain", Noyd produces more "pain rap" full of sorrow and struggle. "From now to here on its beef, which means it's on, we about to increase the heat. And you know once the temperature rise up in the streets, somebody dies, leaves up to heaven in peace…see we don't know why or when, whose next to die when there's beef, me or them. And if so, who do you mourn for, me or him? Another brother's gone, all you do is pour out gin". The album's remaining cuts such as "Air It Out" featuring Havoc, "That Fire" & "Going Right At "Em" are also noteworthy tracks that encompass that gritty Big Noyd sound fans will surly adore.
In the world of Q.B. Hip-Hop Big Noyd is definitely one of the most underrated emcees. Lyrically he is more creative and focused than his Infamous running mates, and based on pure intensity and charisma, Noyd is definitely at the top. However, it seems as if one aspect of Noyd's game is lacking in comparison to his Q.B. partners, his ear for great production. While no one would call the production on "Only The Strong" lackluster, it does however fail to reach the status of previous releases from his family. Maybe the standards were set too high to beginning with, but deep down we all know Havoc & Alchemist could have laced the album with a lot better production than what they did. Nevertheless, "Only The Strong" is still a good album that was well worth the wait. Let's just hope next time (if there is one) Noyd will truly deliver that gritty Q.B. classic we all hoped to see from "Only The Strong".