Operating Under Thug Laws Az WarriorZ, the Outlawz have managed to make a name for themselves in the industry as hell-raising thugs who've dedicated their musical careers to keeping 2Pac's legacy alive. From hitting B.I.G up to staring at the world through their rearview, 2pac's protégés have proven themselves to be completely capable of churning out classic material. Yet, after their mentor was gunned-down in Las Vegas, many have been questioning their ability to succeed on a solo mission. 2000 hinted at the answer with the ill-received "Ride With Us Or Collide With Us" LP, which (although it brought us the banger 'Black Rain'), suffered from inconsistency, one too many references to 2pac, and rookie mistakes that one would not expect from a group with their track record. Attempting to redeem themselves, they've returned for 2001 with "Novakane," an LP that has improved on their past errors, but still isn't all that.
Tracks like the banging opener, 'Rize' (feat. Big Syke), or the g-funk synthesized, 'Ghetto Gutta' (feat. E.D.I and Kastro), prove that this rowdy bunch are more than capable of providing the adorning public with a classic similar to Mobb's 'The Infamous' or Cormega's 'The Realness.' The former track, for example, displays lyrical magic with lines like "Streets is the resting place of yesterday," that anybody can appreciate at the least. Another song on the plus side is '2nd Hand Smoke.' In what is probably one of the greatest post-Tupac-death Outlawz tracks, verses about the ills of the ghetto combined with a slow-paced tragic / romantic guitar loop plus an original way of describing the streets (referring to everything bad as second hand smoke in an extended metaphor) create a song that is the quintessential vintage Outlawz. In addition, 'So Many Stories' falls in the same category as '2nd Hand Smoke.' Again with the g-funk synthesizers, the beat painfully wails and perfectly correlates with the angst-filled verses. This song coincides with the remaining three tracks to display what The Outlawz are fully capable of when they put some effort in.
Unfortunately, there are many rookie mistakes on "Novakane." For every '2nd Hand Smoke' is a 'This Is The Life.' In contrast to the previous track, 'This Is The Life' contains weak lyrics and a mish-mash of instruments. Some may defend this track as a gritty and raw track, but there is a difference between hardcore and simple noise. It must be said, though, this track can be grown into, but it is indistinguishable from other songs on here like 'Y'All Can't Lose' and 'Red Bull.' Furthermore, the song 'Our Life,' showcases The Outlawz trying to go against the grain from their usual archetype, but they fail miserably. A sappy r&b / gospel singer provides the chorus as one Outlaw (that's another problem with this release, the members no longer have individual traits and cannot be identified anymore) begins his verse with the forced-insight line of "Pins and needles, needles and pins / these two Timbs was my Beamers before I heard of a Benz," yet to his credit, he does come with charisma. While they should be applauded for their aspirations of not creating a mono-themed album, The Outlawz should learn that only 2pac was capable of being heartfelt without appearing like a pussy.
When viewed in its entirety, "Novakane" is seen as a must-purchase for diehard 2pac / Outlawz fans. It is disturbing when one realizes their potential as they could just possibly pull off a 12-14 track classic without 2pac if they came with the same sincerity on '2nd Hand Smoke' or the intensity of 'Rize' for their future releases. The Outlawz must learn to stop referring to 2pac in their verses (this reviewer counted at least 7 mentions of 2pac's name in their verses and that's not including the Makaveli and song references) as they have managed to create great material without him (see 'You Can Be Touched' [and yes, I know 2pac was on the chorus] or 'Did You Pray Today?'). In addition, if they cannot be successful when betraying their thug-persona paradigm, they should stick to talking about money, crime, and sex since Mobb Deep has created a few classics in their heyday. Finally, each member has to focus on their strengths and they need to have the same hunger as they possessed back in 1996 when the unfamiliar listener could hear an Outlawz track for the first time and realize that it wasn't a solo artist appearing with 2pac.