AZ’s album succeeds for what it includes – and what it omits

With the release of his second CD, Pieces of a Man (Noo Trybe/Virgin), AZ emerges as a force to be reckoned with in the hip-hop world. AZ was not content to work only with The Firm (AZ, Foxy Brown and Nas), a band that doesn’t tour. Now, the 26-year-old AZ proves he can hold his own.

This CD is good for what it does not have, as well as for what it does. The producers’ skills shine with one tight beat after another. But AZ’s lyrical skill sets off the rhythms – he has developed his story-telling ability, conveying an array of images to listeners.

Cameos, the staple of current hip-hop, are few and far between – and definitely enhance this album without taking over. Monifah steps in to provide vocal backing on “Last Days,” and the RZA of Wu-Tang Clan adds production and lyrics to “Whatever Happened,” a song about the good old days.

Nas, AZ’s mentor, comes in on “How Ya Livin,” creating one of the best tracks on the disc. They stick to the King-of-New-York mentality, which comes off true.

The best song by far is “The Payback.” AZ tells the story of revenge for a one-time friend: “I know where you rock at, the spots you drop at; keep frontin’ nigga, showin’ your Rolie, get ya watch snatched.” But the beat is amazing – guitar tracks from the introduction to Sade’s “Like a Tattoo” looped with percussion so it sounds faster, but really isn’t. The effect is tremendous.

And last but definitely not least, AZ had the good sense to enlist Intro’s talented lead singer Kenny Greene for “What’s the Deal,” the CD’s only sexually-oriented track. Kenny adds sophistication to what could have been a mediocre effort.

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