|Recording information: Can-Am Studios, Tarzana, CA; Chung King Studios, New York, NY; Dirty South Studios, Atlanta, GA; Organic Grease Studios, Los Angeles, CA; Pacifique Studios, North Hollywood, CA; Record Plant, Hollywood, CA.
|Nearly two decades after contributing to Dr. Dre's monumental Chronic album, the Dogg Pound founder whose name has graced a number of greatest-MCs-of-all-time lists (Kool Moe Dee, for instance, ranked him above Slick Rick in his book There's a God on the Mic) might be considered washed up by many fans who once lauded him. Combining with L.A. beatsmith Terrace Martin, Kurupt makes a commendable effort to prove his detractors wrong on the impressive Streetlights, defiantly proclaiming "I don't sell a lot of records 'cause people ain't like me" on the intro as if to say that he's an artist for whom street cred matters most. From there, Kurupt and Problem launch into "I'm Burnt" -- a devil-may-care weed anthem whose bouncy, hyphy-tinged beat will likely garner the most radio-play out of any of the songs on Streetlights. He then runs down a list of queries that he probably gets a lot from rap fans (i.e. "I'm glad you got back with Daz/But was Suge really whoopin' all them niggas ass?" and "New York really love you right?/So tell me, what really happened in ninety-five?") without responding to any of them on "Questions." Terrace Martin, who provides the beats for all but two cuts, does well in constructing a distinctively West Coast record, and his neo-G-Funk arrangements on tracks like "In Gotti We Trust," "Face Down," and "All That I Want" echo Dr. Dre's lasting stylistic influence. But there are at least two tracks which sound hand-delivered from the good doctor -- which is certainly not a bad thing. The sleazy, party-hopping banger "I'm Drunk" comes off like a reimagining of "Let's Get High" from Dre's second album, and the new-millennium electro-funk beat creeping behind Kurupt's low-brow sexist rants on "Scrape" is equal parts Afrika Bambaataa and Chronic 2001. Still, it's an East Coast vet -- Pete Rock -- who comes up biggest with what is the record's high point, the infectious "Yessirm," which sees Kurupt adopting a subdued, whispery flow over an interplay of delicate keys and piercing horns. Later on, Terrace Martin's mournful, violin-driven track makes the Dogg Pound Gangsta's tight, braggadocio-fueled verses sound almost poignant on the triumphant "I'm the Man." Still, Streetlights is not without its clunkers. Lil Jon's generic crunk beat behind "Riot in the Club" does little to fire up Kurupt's listless vocals and the anguished shouted rhymes on the hard rock-themed title track sound like a bad Eminem impersonation. But in the end, Kurupt turns in strong performances on much of Streetlights, delivering furious free association freak-outs and ultimately some of his nastiest verses in years. ~ Matt Rinaldi