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Styles

Gangster and a Gentleman

Release Date: 07/09/2002
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As one-third of the intrepid street ap trio LOX, Styles Paniro had seen hip-hop go through a number of awkward phases since the death of friend and mentor the Notorious B.I.G. Biggie Smalls and Sean "Puffy" Combs were the first to recognize the talents of Styles and fellow Yonkers natives Jadakiss and Sheek Luciano. After Biggie's passing, the LOX released their debut, Money, Power Respect, in 1998, and Styles was always the MC who listeners looked forward to hearing on the track. After the LOX became fed up with Puff Daddy's glammed-out approach to the ap game, they rediscovered their gully roots and resurfaced with DMX, Swizz Beatz, and the Ruff Ryder camp in early 2000, releasing the far-more-edgy We Are the Streets later that same year. After fellow LOX member Jadakiss found solo success with his summer 2001 release Kiss tha Game Goodbye, it was only a matter of time before Styles, every bit as talented a lyricist as Jada but perhaps a little less marketable, came forth with a solo venture. The buzz for this album was spurred by two singles in particular: the soulful memoir "My Life," featuring Pharoahe Monch (originally released on Rawkus' Soundbombing, Vol. 3), and the herbalist's anthem "Good Times." But this album is more than just a two-track wonder, as Styles divides equal time between his bipolar persona. On the gangster side, Styles offers thuggish joints like the kettle-drum-laced "Styles," the stirring "Lick Shots" featuring the LOX crew, and the party banger "Soul Clap," which loops a snippet from the classic Native Tongues remix of "Scenario." Styles shows a more humanist side on the laid-back "Black Magic," featuring Angie Stone, and expends heartfelt lamentation on the death of his older brother on "My Brother." The album's haphazard track sequencing detracts from its overall quality, as the songs don't transition well from one to the next. Also, despite Styles' made-man, one-foot-in-the-spirit realm approach, the MC fails to carry a couple of tracks (which may be the result of some spotty, soulless production). These minor glitches aside, Styles' debut hits hard like a double shot of Glenlivet or a haymaker to the thorax. ~ M.F. DiBella, Rovi

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