|Recording information: Blade Studios, Shreveport, LA; Hit Factory, Miami, FL; Jungle City Studios, New York, NY; Swisher Suite Studios, Miami, FL; We The Best Studios, Miami, FL.
|After living up to his name with the stern 2011 Def Jam release Blood Sweat & Tears, rapper Ace Hood travels to the land of Cash Money Records for this 2013 effort, but his executive producer, Khaled Khaled aka DJ Khaled, is still along for the ride. As such, the diverse, dirty, and quite determined Trials & Tribulations is an effective amalgamation of all these hip-hop names, with quirky, cool Cash Money moments (R&B great Betty Wright showing up on the moving closer, "Mama") rubbing shoulders with slick, star-studded singles that are more Khaled-driven ("Rider" with Chris Brown is so smooth and extra plush). Hood's ever increasing skills are what holds this rangy effort together, as he convincingly offers pathos on the Cardiak-produced "Another Statistic" and doles out the believable pain on the banging, Renegades-helmed title track. He sounds extra inspired when producer Sonny Digital pastes together gamelan orchestra chimes from Bali and a boom-bap backbeat from the golden age for the thrilling, hooky history lesson called "Before the Rollie," and when it comes to that Florida flash, "Bugatti" is blinding with Rick Ross and Future kicking the swagger into overdrive. The sequence of "Rider," "Hope," and "Pray for Me" makes for a long stretch of slow and low, and while this isn't a giant leap forward or a stunning diversion from previous releases, Hood's on a roll and it's hard not to welcome the usual power and polish. He's still a more street-level and sensible alternative to Rick Ross here, with the added benefit of storytelling that sticks in the head. ~ David Jeffries