If he looks like Notorious B.I.G., and he sounds like Notorious B.I.G. then, by golly, he must be just like Notorious B.I.G., right? (No, that’s only where this entire review could go astray.)
Americans love comparisons. Kobe Bryant is the next Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods is the next Jack Nicklaus. Pork is the “other white meat.” For whatever reason, unless something new can be compared to something old, Americans cannot accept it within our society. And that is, unfortunately, where Guerilla Black loses out.
“He look like BIG, he sound like BIG, Yo, I’m B-L-A-C-K, n---a, ya dig?” Guerilla Black raps on the introduction track, “Hearts of Fire,” off his debut album, “Guerilla City.” And there is little denying that fact. Black looks a lot like the deceased Biggie Smalls and even does sound like him on many records, but the endless comparisons are what hurt his potential as an artist.
The Carlos Broady-produced “Hearts of Fire” only offers a short glimpse into the powerful and determined mind of Black, who rips off line after line, offering a glimpse into the struggle that he has endured to get to where he is at today (just sounding like Biggie wasn’t all it took!)
In fact, aside from the lead single, “Compton” (featuring Beenie Man), which does curiously sample a bit too much of BIG’s style and charisma, Guerilla Black forges his own legacy with “Guerilla City,” an introspective debut album that mixes and matches the club tracks, ladies’ tracks, heartfelt tracks, and rap attacks.
The “walk-with-me” approach of the title track, “Guerilla City,” offers a tour of the khakis and Chucks throughout Compton, as Black spends little time separating himself geographically from his East Coast comparison. Similarly, the West Coast flair of “What We Gonna Do,” features a head-nodder of a Fredwreck production paired with a Nate Dogg hook that arguably provides Black’s most ambitious and thorough effort on the microphone.
Add in the touches of the Eazy E dedication, “Say What,” in all of its’ cocaine-slinging glory, and Guerilla Black solidifies himself as a West Coast force to be reckoned with. As much as Guerilla Black may sound like Biggie – he’s not – and his choice to stray from blatant attempts at recreating his music are welcomed and appreciated.
Elsewhere, however, Black does succumb to the commercial pressures and creates several soft attempts at radio hits that do not befit his personality or messages from other portions of the album. In particular, the strip club anthem, “Trixxx,” featuring Darkchild production, and Jazze Pha’s “Guerilla Nasty,” both slip up and put Black into awkward situations that he doesn’t seem comfortable with.
The action-paced storytelling of “Yes Sir” and the sweet dedication to his deceased wife on “My First” make up for the missteps though and allow Guerilla Black to create quality material often missing from the hip-hop soundscape while helping him to establish his own sound at the same time.
“Guerilla City” is hardly a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, as many of the titles that Black touches have been done before and probably done better. But, with all the curiosity (and probably animosity) swirling around his entire persona, “City” offers him the opportunity to showcase the true talents that he does have.
If he looks like Notorious B.I.G., and he sounds like Notorious B.I.G., then is he really just like Notorious B.I.G.? No, and hip-hop should appreciate that. BIG is BIG, Black is Black, and “Guerilla City” only reaffirms his place in the game – no better off or worse off than many of the other rappers in the game today.