Quick Spins: 'Crime Pays' by Cam'ron

Tuesday, May 12, 2009



Given the lyrical laziness of so much modern mainstream hip-hop, it's easy to understand why critics overpraised Cam'ron's 2004 album, "Purple Haze." Sure, the New York rapper could weave a dizzying number of drug metaphors and haute couture references into a single song. And yet dozens of other rappers have managed the same feat with better hooks, more personality and half the acclaim. With five years of hindsight, the technically impressive but curiously joyless "Purple Haze" now feels like a momentarily diverting spin on too-familiar gangsta-rap tropes.

Inconsistent and overlong, the new "Crime Pays" barely rises to the level of a diversion, and it's certainly not very pleasant. At his most technically outlandish or casually weird, Cam'ron can still make the most cliched subject matter sound strange, as when he claims his "car's the same color as fluoride" and name-checks "Gilligan's Island" or "Homicide." But too often he's content to list the contents of his gun cabinet, or offer banal boasts about his big-spender lifestyle.

And for every unexpected musical idea, like swiping cheesy European techno keyboards on "Spend the Night," there are two or three leaden, generic beats that could be off a third-rate rapper's homemade mix tape. Worst of all, any virtuosic moments are obscured by Cam'ron's contemptuously lazy monotone delivery, a voice too dull to sell pulp thrills with any conviction. Even at his most skillful, Cam'ron sounds like he's having very little fun.

-- Jess Harvell

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