The Underrated: AZ's Aziatic
1. Once Again
2. A-1 Performance
3. Wanna Be There
4. Take It Off
5. The Essence
6. Hands In The Air
7. Fan Mail
8. Paradise (Life)
9. Take Care Of Me
10. I'm Back
13. Aziatic (Outro)
14. Doing Me (Bonus Track)
We first heard him way back in 1994, on Nas’ “Life’s A Bitch” and that was the only introduction AZ needed. His verse would become an all time classic and delight audiences around the world. With that momentum, he would release his debut just a year later. His debut was received very well by audiences because his approach and content seemed to be a little bit different. He was focused on recounting tales from the streets with a Mafioso spin, but more importantly, with his debut he proved that he was a fantastic storyteller with engaging and brilliant lyrics. Despite a solid and acclaimed album, his music remained slept on and AZ would go on to be regarded as one of the most underrated hip hop artists of the time. Between 1998 and 2001, he would release his third project, and both were underwhelming. It seemed as though his debut “Doe Or Die” would remain unmatched.
By 2002, AZ would surprise the hip hop world again with his release of “Aziatic”. AZ would regain the attention of fans and this would quickly be regarded as one of the best comeback albums of all time. The beat complexity coupled with the lyricism not only matched AZ’s level of talent, it brought with it an inventive, seasoned, and perfectly put together album. “Aziatic” was one of the highlights of 2002 and today we are going to look at it in depth. First, we’ll look at production and then go track by track with a rating and best verse/bars as well as album strengths, weaknesses, and the overall album rating.
AZ has always had multiple people on production and it worked for him on the debut, but he did come up short on the second and third projects. On “Aziatic” however, he’s tightened the team and intensified the focus and it reaped almost perfect results. With minimal samples that are flawlessly looped together and carefully chosen collaborations, Baby Paul, Buckwild, Chop Diesel, Les, Big Joe, Miller Time, DR Period and Portlay give us a soulful and melodic album that took time and attention creating.
Track By Track/Best Bars:
Let's break down each track one by one and the best lyrics from each song.
-The beat on this track sounds unlike anything we’ve heard from AZ before. It’s animated and is a great backdrop for the way he starts this off. He begins thanking Nas, BIG and artists from the East, West North and South and then declares his return. I love AZ’s humility and I appreciate his recognizing other artists and crediting those who deserve it. His nobility is commendable and makes this a dope intro.
“This all I know/
Intelligence is all I show/
I'm from the roots and the truth is that I love the doe/
Welcome me Back huh”
-There is only one way to describe this song and it’s “glitz and glamour”. The beats are big, bold and there is so much going on (think the Vegas strip at 11pm) that it becomes incredibly exciting. His storytelling, references and imagery are front and center and he doesn’t disappoint. This really is an “A-1 performance” and reminds us quickly why AZ is as amazing as he is.
“MJ style the flows Cajun/
Connect wit me/
Absorb, reflect wit me/
Respect I'm so 'N Sync, I could sex Britney/
Been about it/
No comparison, send 'em a stylist/
They too old for gold, and they dress code is childish/”
*Wanna Be There
-This is one of my favorites and one of the most soulful tracks thanks to the use of the Ronnie Dyson sample of “I Just Want To Be There”. The vocals are very complimentary to AZ’s intonation and delivery and as for content; he follows the theme of “the come back”. IMO the best part of this is his self-awareness and how “gracefully” he owns his successes and his “failures”
“Loving the game you gave me/ loving my name is AZ/
Never sold millions, but fuck it I'm here to save the babies/
Look how a lady raised me/
Some would say he crazy/
I'm just a nigga from Brooklyn repping the streets that made me/”
*Take It Off
-The title is a dead giveaway and is exactly what we would expect. AZ, a stripper, some Cristal and hopes of sex. While this isn’t my favorite track on the album because the chorus/hook is so repetitive it becomes background noise, I give it a pass because it’s necessary for the intended purpose of the album. AZ’s making a comeback so a song like this needs to be included. The “bump n grind” tempo is fitting and of course AZ’s delivery is dope as expected.
“Doe is here, I, know affairs/
Love cars like clothes I, drove for years/
Love a massage and a chick to let me hold her ears/
Who's willing, no feelings, I'm cold as beer/
As long as the zone is there/
And as long as she bathe and comb her hair/
We can light something nice and cologne the air/”
-This is definitely a highlight of the album because AZ reunites with Nas. From the beats and sample to the conversation-like lyrics, this song is nothing short of perfect. Their dynamic is silky smooth and it makes this an instant favorite. These two can do no wrong and this serves as proof.
“[N] What's today's mathematics/
[A] We had it/
We let 'em hold it we shoulda sold it
[N] We back it/
We could have grabbed it/
But fuck it, just let 'em have it/
[A] Al 'Humdulillah
[N] Allahu Akbar
[A] God is the greatest/
[N] Planet Mars, we carvin the faces/
[A] You couldn't catch us in a car without the bangers/”
*Hands In The Air
-This is the track that I can classify the production as “inventive”. The beat is not what we would typically expect from AZ, but it works brilliantly. DJ Rogers Jr. is the featured vocalist and provides some of the smoothest vocals on this album. I love the poetic devices, word choice and of course the story. Everything is on point but this remains one of the most underrated tracks on the album.
“Can't see me, don't try it, can't be me/
Won't tire, y'all cowards can't leave me/
Locked in, flow-wise I'm top ten/
Hop in, low-ride, I'm not him/
It's hot, hope glow's ready/”
-This is a great concept for a song. AZ receives two letters one from a fan in prison and another from a fan whose husband has passed away. Both letters break down how his music has impacted them. This is raw and heartfelt, and I appreciate the details like the crumpling of paper which sets the mood and enhances the lyrics.
“Since Illmatic, heard ya bars of life/
I was up in Coxsackie, niggas started to fight/
You touched souls to a lost population of men/
And no doubt, if ever out they'll never lock me again/
Faced wit 10 on state time, with life on the back/"
“AZ, this is Camille since Sugar Hill been a fan/
And since then to me you still the man/
A real card player rarely reveals his hand/
And sincerely, I could say the hood feel ya jam/
I sit and listen to your latest edition/
Washing dishes in the kitchen/”
-Another track dedicated to where he’s been, where he is and his accomplishments. This highlights AZ’s storytelling very well and that’s what carries the song. Where this comes up a little short is on the hook. It’s bland and doesn’t quite fit because of the echo and repetition, but like I said, he’s so good on the verses that we almost don’t notice.
“I stand militant, my stripes came from the sewage/
Interrogation lights, spent nights up in the cubics/
Fistfights, I'm nice like Earl Huvick/
Narration is traumatizing/
Here since '94, it's still kinda surprising/
I touched topics/
Safe-boxes, unlocked it/”
*Take Care Of Me
-I’ve never been a fan of overly explicit descriptions of sexual escapades and drugs, and of course this is what the content of this track is. Every rapper has a song like this so it’s expected, but there’s no substance aside from the superficial stuff. Is it entertaining? Maybe for some but with a lyricist/MC of this caliber, it’s almost a waste of a track.
“I can't knock it, try it but I can't stop it/
It's in my blood, like the same way I love chocolate/
And all I hear is…”
-I feel like the entire tracklist was leading up to this one. The title is self explanatory and the beat does a great job of creating a re-entrance-like atmosphere (like the second track). There’s a lot going on instrumentally and is reminiscent of AZ’s days with The Firm. It works well but it’s a “busy” song, so it’s difficult to keep the focus on the words. Also, I wish there was another verse or something because we are left with the sample loop for what seems like an eternity. Overall this is a dope track.
“Separate the weaker niggas is the best way, fuck how y'all feel/
Y'all cowards now fuckin with real/
I return like McGrady got caught with a pill/
Let's get it poppin/
I move like a nigga coppin/
I know the stress from the streets when I was diddy-boppin/
Playin the corners/
Face to face with the faces of mourners/”
-With a sample from the Temptations, this is the AZ from 1994. Everything about this from title, to lyrics to sample choice speaks to the street life AZ has always talked about it. This time he features Trav and Animal. This collaboration is incredible and sounds like something straight out of the “Scarface” movie with vivid imagery and some great references. It’s perfect and so true to AZ’s rapper persona. I love everything about this.
“I didn't fall from heaven, I rose from hell/
Big boy, get bagged, he gon' hold my bail/
It's like Attica '67 when they, closed the jail/
Be careful, but promote yo'selves that's what they told me/
Involved but unconcerned/
Fuck beef when it dissolve it does not return/"
“Iron poking on my ribs while I'm laying in a Taurus/
I live this shit y'all just performers/
It's a dirty game, I seen thugs turn informers/
Crooked cops run in the crib, no warrants/”
“You're not wrong, like Biggie said you're dead wrong/
Need to get your flow tight, gotta get your head strong/
Watch us, the way we floss up in coat lockers/
Walk right past security, flippin' poppers/”
-Another great track but it’s very short. Just one verse of straight rhyming accompanied by some fast paced instrumental. It starts off with an introduction and continues with some great references to boxers, memorable fights and everything else that helps personify AZ’s greatness. One thing is certain, AZ is consistent and always delivers lyrically.
“Listen, no intermissions/
I am, so in position, like, Ali and Liston/
Who could box me to distance, try me/
Now the police call to give orders to creep on ya/
I master the street corners relax in the feet sauna and/
Fuck if y'all don't like I'm here and I'm shown niceness/
Appear in my own likeness, I zone as my own psychic/”
-With samples from Nas’ “Life’s A Bitch” and his own “Doe or Die”, this is the best way to wrap up an album. It reminds everyone of the beginning and his credibility as an artist. AZ is calculated and it works well for him here.
*Doing Me (Bonus Track)
-The bonus track and a great one at that. It leaves off on a positive note and speaks of “proof of what it could be if you try”. I love when artists do this especially in albums that are rooted in struggle and (perceived) negativity. It’s hopeful while staying true to reality. I love this track and love that it’s the last one we hear.
“Life itself is more than a trial or a quest/
Intelligent wise, it's like I done ran with the best/
And very rarely, you can catch me casually dressed/
I'm more relaxed in a hat and some sweats/
Doing me, been amongst some of the street's most strongest men”
“Knowledge of self, I'mma do this regardless of wealth/
Regardless of how the deck and how the cards get dealth/”
Aziatic’s strengths lie primarily in AZ’s ability to tell stories and never be outshined by featured artists. He delivers consistently and at a very high caliber of lyricism and flow. The approach on this album is unlike anything he’s done before with production which was almost perfect. The album flows well from track to track and remains cohesive from beginning to end. AZ took his time with this and made it exceptional and it shows. This truly was a fantastic comeback album.
There aren’t many but the most obvious one is the lack of excitement on some of the hooks and choruses. For someone who is as confident and comfortable rapping and who consistently delivers impeccable rhymes, those should have been at the same level of quality.
It’s always difficult for albums to ever come close to one's debut. AZ tried, twice, and came up short, but “Aziatic” would prove to be the album that would put him back on the map. He was able to gain credibility as an artist and did so with a fresh approach to topic choices and beat selection. Soulful melodies worked very well for AZ and fans were reassured once again that he merits his rank as one the best and most underrated MC’s of all time.