March 18, 2004

Check Out These Gunz

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Upon first glance, Roc-A-Fella’s latest recruits Young Gunz seem like little more than yet another faceless hip hop duo whose shtick consists merely of endlessly shouting out they and their record label’s names over standard party beats in hopes of attaining enough success that they can someday afford to drink Cristal, lease a couple of Benzes and Hummers, and, if they play their cards just right, buy a house big enough to appear on MTV Cribs. But they deserve more credit than that (although they probably wouldn’t mind accomplishing any of the above goals).

Christopher Ries and Hanif Muhammad grew up together in the Nicetown area of Philadelphia, which, according to their bio on Roc-A-Fella’s website, apparently isn’t very nice at all. So they avoided all the drugs, violence, and whatnot and started rapping. Last summer, they got their break when “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” was released as part of Roc-A-Fella’s State Property album and became a fairly sizeable hit. In a year where many smash hits were marked by over-the-top production (see “Crazy in Love”), “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” possessed almost no beat whatsoever and relied on Chris and Neef’s soft-spoken braggadocio. It worked surprisingly well.

But aside from their breakthrough’s minimalist backing (which only appears in remix form here as a bonus track), the production on Tough Luv actually does lean toward the horn-heavy, soul-inspired style that can currently be found throughout the genre. The Young Gunz take the opportunity to acknowledge their roots, as many of Tough Luv’s samples harken back to the “Philadelphia sound” of the early seventies, borrowing from such artists as the Delfonics and the Spinners, as well as Philly Soul imitators Hall and Oates.

As far as lyrical content goes, a direct line can be drawn from labelmate Jay-Z to the Young Gunz, as they often mimic his exceedingly arrogant approach, which seems childish at times. But on songs such as “No Better Love,” the first rap song to extol monogamy since Biz Markie’s “You Got What I Need,” they appear somewhat sympathetic.

Nowhere is this trait more apparent than on the title track. “Tough Luv” is essentially the Young Gunz version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or the Golden Girls theme song — a testament to Chris and Neef’s commitment to each other as rappers and friends. They cleverly vow not to go the route of Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady, former Toronto Raptors teammates and supposed distant cousins, who seemed destined for greatness until McGrady signed with the Orlando Magic as a free agent. Both have faired decently since the split, but nothing has approached what possibly could have been had they remained teammates.

In the end, Tough Luv stands as a promising debut. While there are no truly transcendent moments, there are no hindrances either. The well-sequenced variation between upbeat and slower songs allows the listener to choose which Young Gunz style they like best, and chances are that most hip-hop fans will find something on Tough Luv worth listening to.

Archived article by Ross McGowan