The "producer's album" is a fairly recent trend in hip-hop that has been approached several different ways and yielded mixed results. A producer can use the opportunity to experiment with a new sound and create an alter ego, such as Madlib with his Quasimoto album or RZA as Bobby Digital in Stereo. Pete Rock instead chose to use his clout to compile a virtual "who's who" of hip-hop's best to shine over his beats on his criminally underrated 1998 album, Soul Survivor. Before Dre reemerged with Chronic 2001, he utilized his position to try and break new artists on his disappointing '96 album, The Aftermath. So which direction will Easy Mo Bee take on his first solo album, Now or Never? The approach is somewhere in between Aftermath-era Dre and Pete Rock, with only marginal success.
Although not quite in the elite "A-List" of hip-hop producers like Dre, Rock, Primo, or Erick Sermon; Easy Mo Bee has made his mark crafting street anthems for Biggie, Tupac, Tha Alkaholiks and scores of others over the years. For those familiar with his work, the prospect of Mo Bee doing an album of his own and gaining more recognition seemed like a solid bet. However the resulting Now or Never is marred by many problems, mostly of Mo Bee's own design. First and foremost is the simple fact that a producer who generally doesn't rhyme should not attempt to. Even worse is the fact that Easy Mo Bee opens his much-anticipated album with a solo turn on the title track. Skill-wise, he makes Erick Sermon and Pete Rock sound like Jay-Z and Rakim. Luckily he stays off the mic for the majority of the rest of the album, reemerging only on the throwaway track "Dis Beat is Mine". Things start to get better with the Suace Money vehicle "Sunstroke", which contains one of the better beats of the album. Goodie Mobb then pops up to give the album some southern flavor on "Fie Fie Delish", which sounds familiar until you realize that the exact same track appeared on Goodie's World Party last year.
Midway through, the album settles into a groove, aided by the eternally consistent Gangstarr on "Soul" and the flame throwing female Rah Digga on "Talkin' Bout You" delivers probably the strongest individual performance on the LP over a beat that recalls Biggie/Mo Bee's classic "Warning". Then comes the track that embodies the potential of the album while at the same time highlighting one of its greatest flaws, the Kool G. Rapp banger "N.Y.C.". Over perhaps Mo Bee's best beat of the album, Kool G. Rapp attacks the mic with a ferocity that recalls his best work on Road to the Riches and Wanted: Dead or Alive but updates his lyrics to give the song a weathered-by-time, O.G. feel. This is the kind of gritty collaboration that made heads check for Easy Mo Bee in the first place. So what's the problem you ask? Simply put, the presence of Jinx da Juvy, a 14-year old MC who sounds like he's still throwin' joints with puberty. Sure he's nice for a 14-year old but no 14-year old belongs on a track rhyming alongside a rap legend like G. Rapp. His verse, sandwiched between two top-notch G. Rapp verses, threaten to stop the momentum of this blistering cut dead in its tracks. Speaking of out-of-place MC's, who are Da Nation and why are they featured on three tracks? Who are Glaze N.Y. & Ken and why are they teamed up with Snoop on the half-baked Cali funk track "Sound of My Heat"? But the award for worst rhyming performance on the album easily goes to Hot 97 radio personality Angie Martinez, who's kindergarten-level lyricism and nonexistent flow on "Make Em Bounce" should make sure she keeps her day job. Blatantly commercial tracks like "Heat", "Bounce", and "I'll Always Be There For You" simply don't play to Easy Mo Bee's strengths as a producer.
Another frustrating element is that even when Mo Bee pairs MC's together logically, like Raekwon and Busta Rhymes or the Cocoa Brovas with Prodigy, the results still leave something to be desired. On "Let's Make A Toast", Rae and Busta acquit themselves fairly well but unfortunately they've brought the American Cream Team and Flipmode Squad minus Rah Digga. Both camps' lackluster performances make the track drag on over a mediocre Mo Bee beat. The album finishes with "We Pledge Allegiance", a collabo between the Cocoa B's and P which sounds infallible on paper. Unfortunately, listening to the finished track it sounds like they were never in the studio at the same time. The B's work together and carry the first two minutes of the track and then Prodigy's verse at the end sounds like it was tacked on as an afterthought. The result is a track that amounts to a complete waste of potential. With a couple exceptions, that's a fair way to describe this whole album.