By Noah Callahan-Bever
Artists and critics alike often complain about hip-hop fans’ fickle, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately disposition. And, generally speaking, artists who spend more than a year in the lab are viewed as J.D. Salinger–style hermits or weirdo Orson Welles–ish auteurs. For that reason, Chicago’s allegiance to Twista—arguably the largest, most respected regional act never to cross over—is awe-inspiring.
Though he stumbled out the gate with his gimmicky, East Coast–derived debut, 1991’s Runnin’ Off at the Mouth, ever since he connected with Do or Die in ’96 for “Po Pimp “Po Pimp” is the first single by Do or Die the Midwest has had Twista’s back like one of those body-conforming mattresses. In the ensuing seven years, he released one solo LP, the formidable Adrenaline Rush; a group project, Mobstability; and some half-baked indie compilations. The rest of that time he spent in a legal battle with his label, occasionally teasing news of alignments with Bad Boy or Roc-A Fella.
But the cult of Twista persists. Okay, a lot of rappers have made this claim, but Twista truly is your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper—or at least among their top five living MCs. Just ask Jay-Z, Cam’Ron, and Puffy—son is nice. And that’s why, despite all the delays, fans are still champing at the bit for Kamikaze, Twista’s long-awaited follow-up. And they won’t be disappointed, as the former “fastest rapper alive” delivers a record that flirts with experimentation yet remains in his lane—the fast lane, that is.
It’s in his beat selection that we see the most exciting new turn. Though he still finds a place for the vicious keyboard joints that made Adrenaline Rush a sleeper classic, Kamikaze has a more soulful feel. And much of that new sound comes courtesy of fellow Windy City native Kanye West. On “Slow Jamz,” his Jamie Foxx and West-guested single, Twista rips a verse in which he name-drops just about every dope oldschool R&B act to the tune of West’s subtle bass and soothing xylophone melody. Even an uninspired verse from legit balla Bennie Franks, who raps alongside Freeway, can’t slow the roll of “Show’s Over,” where Twista nimbly jumps all over West’s manic bounce-tempo soul.
But not to be outdone, Twista’s in-house producer Toxic makes a compelling argument that he’s the LP’s slept-on star with the catchy “Get Me” and “Kill Us All” (think “Adrenaline Rush” meets “Never Scared”). On the former, over a thundering piano and an intoxicating vocal snippet of “Here I Am,” from Gamble & Huff Philly soul act the Three Degrees, Twista spits with a gusto rivaled only by that of Eminem on “’Till I Collapse.”
Outside the beats, the other surprise of Kamikaze is Twista’s more worldly and thoughtful subject matter. On the Cee-Lo blessed “Hope,” Twista pays homage to R. Kelly’s “I Wish” and Nas’s “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That),” contemplating the changes he’d like to see over Red Spyda’s “Thugz Mansion”–styled guitars. Despite the Chi’s notoriously bitter weather, Twista presents a sunny, feel-good anthem on “Sunshine,” with Anthony Hamilton.
Kamikaze is not a definitive end-to-end burner, as the disc’s middle is bloated with a tad too many shake-that-ass-girl tracks. But Twista demonstrates growth and a commitment to his craft that will likely attract fans outside the Midwest. This is what his core constituency has waited for all these years, and he’s given them just enough of a tongue lashing that they’ll wait another seven—if they must.