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AZ – Doe or Die II

Review AZ – Doe or Die II
By Tony Yamamoto

For those who have followed hip hop since the 90s AZ is somewhat of a cult hero. Best known for his guest verse on NasLife’s a Bitch, his 1995 debut, Doe or Die is also accepted as a New York underground classic. Almost an Illmatic part 2 of sorts. After early success, his career went stagnant aside from some underground singles in the early 2000s and a stint with Nas’ failed supergroup, the Firm. Doe or Die II was originally announced in 2008 as a means to revitalize AZ’s career. It never happened and he faded away. Then seemingly out of nowhere, Doe or Die II was announced about a month before its September 2021 release.

This is very often the story of a desperate money grab from a has-been artist. Doe or Die II is not one of those albums. AZ will likely not be remembered for this album but it’s immediately evident that he is fully invested in the project. And refreshingly, he doesn’t rely on his previous model of success as is often the case with comeback albums. The writing is well crafted and the album maintains a consistent theme both musically and lyrically. Musically, it relies on soulful beats interspersed by a few harder, more streetwise tracks. The production throughout has a tinge of that 80s dream glam quality of artists like Grover Washington Jr. and Teddy Pendergrass.

In the spirit of Jay Z’s 4:44, this is grown folks hip hop. But in a decidedly different way. Whereas 4:44 is the musings of a billionaire businessman navigating celebrity family life, Doe or Die II is a glimpse into the life of an aging rapper’s rapper living his best life. A man that celebrates the accomplishment of rising above the hustle but still has relatable struggles and the call of the hood in the back of his mind. Jay Z laments a missed opportunity to buy an apartment building that’s now worth 20 million dollars. AZ warns, “this is manifesting; when you handling lessons/ stay in tune, understand your blessings/ But be aware of the ones that whisper in ears/ all the stunners and gunners that sit in the rear.”

For me, the album is anchored by the gritty gangster rap track ‘Ritual’, which features current gangster rap heavy hitter Conway the Machine, and the inimitable Lil Wayne. All three rappers come correct with no hook over a sinister, mechanical beat by Alchemist. Purist hip hop in all its glory. The album also sports features from Rick Ross, and Dave East (Method Man in Hulu’s Wu Tang: An American Saga) in the songs ‘Never Enough’ and ‘Blow That Shit’ respectively. Both are highlight tracks. There are also vocals from T-Pain on the bonus track ‘What’s Good’ as well as spoken word provided by Idris Elba on the intro.

The run-time including ‘What’s Good’ is a very palatable 42 minutes and 20 seconds which makes Doe or Die II an easy album to play front to back. By no means will it set the world on fire, but I find it to be a hidden gem. Low key one of my favorite hip hop albums of the year.