The redheaded stepchild of the Ruff Ryders, Drag-on, has gone through "Hell And Back" since his debut release "Opposite Of H2O" in 2000. From the death of close family members in the World Trade Center attacks, to loosing two unborn twins to a miscarriage, to his own mothers fight with throat cancer, Drag-on has certainly had a rough four years since we last saw him. This pain and hardship is transferred over to his sophomore release "Hell And Back", where we witness the maturation of Drag as not only an emcee but as a man. And while Drag has come along way since his debut release, "Hell And Back" unfortunately stays mired in a formulaic pattern of forced commercial attempts that ultimately overshadow his development on the album.
There is no question that the team behind Drag-on really wants the overlooked emcee to strike it big with one huge commercial hit. However, Drag's commercial appeal is minute to say the least, and attempts such as "Put Your Drinks Down" and "U Had Me Pt. 1 &2" featuring Eve are proof of this. Even when Drag is not trying to calculate a big hit, he is definitely trying to cater to certain audiences. For the down South crowd "I'm A Ryder" featuring Baby & TQ is your usual bounce effort, while "Trouble" mixes some of that southern grit with an annoying hook by Fiend.
Even when Drag sticks to his hardcore east coast roots, hit and miss production from Neo, Rockwilder, Lilz & Plx makes for some disappointing efforts. "Let's Get Crazy" featuring Dmx, "It's A Party" and "Tell Your Friends" featuring Jadakiss all feature simple keyboard production that unfortunately mirrors the sounds of Drag's last album. But when Drag does get some heat from behind the boards he certainly knows what to do with it. "Respect My Gangsta" featuring Styles P is the albums hardest hitting cut, as the Mr. Devine produced track bumps ferociously.
However, cluttered throughout all the bouncy club sounds and gun toting anthems is some proof that Drag has grown over the years. Uncharacteristically, Drag opens his hear and soul and exposes it all, leaving the thugged out tales of Drag-on alone and showing fans who Mel Smalls really is. On "Feel My Pain" Drag addresses the ups and downs of the rap industry and the struggles he went through just to get in the position he is in. On "Life Is Short" Drag gets even more personal, going as far as discussing his mom's crack addiction and his fathers disappearance as a child, as Drag even states himself "I ain't supposed to be telling ya'll this shit". But Drag doesn't stop there, as he saves his most intimate and revealing tales for "My First Child", as Mel vividly depicts a fictional account of raising his first born son, one that he ultimately regrets aborting before birth.
The emotional suffering Drag has experienced over the years brutally comes through on his finest attempts throughout the album. But these attempts are far and few in between, and "Hell And Back" still suffers from the same problems his debut release did, inconsistent production and forced songs. There is no denying Drag-on has grown immensely the last four years, let's just hope that this growth continues and Drag can one day find his own niche in this rap game.