Jadakiss, Kiss Tha Game Goodbye
A familiar case of The Guest Rapper Who Can't Make His Own Hits
Jadakiss is the mascot for locally famous rappers everywhere — someone with a deafening hometown buzz who, for any number of perplexing reasons, cannot convert that energy into Something Larger. Jadakiss was blessed with a raspy, ear-snagging voice and an ability to get to the point in a minimum number of words — his verses have a lean, hard economy of thought and language that usually makes him the most vivid presence on any song he's on.
Except, of course, his own. The Guest Rapper Who Can't Make His Own Hits is a familiar stock character in rap — Twista, Ludacris and Busta Rhymes have all suffered from the affliction to varying degrees — but Jadakiss's case is more complex, compounded by an equally acute case of Mid-Level Rapper Languishing On A Major Label. His albums, when they have come, have always been saddled with B-level market versions of whatever sound was "hot" at the moment, as determined by his A&Rs — which of course meant that said sound was already well on its way to cooling when Jada picked up on it. Kiss Tha Game Goodbye, his first solo record, opens with an apology to his fans for making them wait so long, and then launches into the inexplicable, Aerosmith-referencing "Jada's Got A Gun." The moment kind of sets the tone for the rest of Jada's solo career.
Nonetheless, every Jadakiss album has its heaters, and Kiss Tha Game Goodbye boasts some incredible highlights — "We Gon' Make It" is the best of a long line of duets between Jadakiss and Styles P, his LOX associate, while "Put Ya Hands Up" is a grimy mixtape song that enlivens the album's back half. Jada's first Neptunes collaboration, "Knock Yourself Out," remains his best, even if Pharrell and Chad Hugo gave at least 10 versions of that exact same beat to other rappers in the same year. And his snarling posse cut with nearly all of DMX's Ruff Ryders, "Unh Huh," hit on a primal, guttural level. Gather them together along with the stray hits from his next two filler-riddled albums, and you have the fan's wishful alternate-universe LP that an artist like Jada demands. Jadakiss would score a hit with 2004's resonant "Why?," but that was mostly it. In his 2005 track "Piggy Bank," 50 Cent dissed Jadakiss by pointing out "In New York, dog, niggas love your vocals/ but that's only in New York, dog, yo ass is local." Jadakiss threw a lot of sharp darts back, but could never really correct him on this basic point — Jada swung harder, but 50 hit cleaner.