- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006


Alter Ego


In hip-hop, a rapper’s adoption of his MC name is a baptism. It’s how he’s born into the rap game, how that world will identify him, and how he’ll fall if his survival skills aren’t up to snuff.

The latest person to be anointed: hard-bodied Tyrese Gibson. It seems the model/actor/screenwriter/singer wants to add another slash to his lengthy list of career accomplishments.

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting Black-Ty. (Please hold your applause, laughter, etc.) The new moniker and persona — and no, this isn’t just a one-verse foray into rapping — make their debut on the musician’s latest album, a double-disc aptly titled “Alter Ego.” The multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated artist hasn’t abandoned his baby-making music, though; He hedges his bets here by delivering one full disc of work from the known quantity, the singer Tyrese. Then, on disc two, Black-Ty gets to do his thang.

Unlike Nelly’s 2004 “Suit”/”Sweat” dual release, which exposed that artist’s slightly divergent but ultimately reconcilable chilled-out and crunked-up sides, “Alter Ego” presents drastically different facets of Mr. Gibson: a sort of songster Jekyll and MC Hyde.

One problem with the split personality is that Tyrese the singer seems to have lost his hip-hop edge. Whereas his previous albums (such as 2001’s “2000 Watts”) featured rhythmic diversity, the vocalist paints all his soundscapes in one radio-friendly shade (a la proven hits like “Sweet Lady”) this time around. Sure, these tunes are easy on the ears — particularly the vocally playful R. Kelly-written and -produced “Hurry Up” — but they begin to blend into the background after about 15 minutes.

Perhaps that’s the point: saving the spotlight for Black-Ty, who comes out swinging with a cast ofhard-core guest artists like Snoop Dogg, The Game and Too $hort.

Despite a few lyrical stumbles, he makes a strong first showing here — if you’re into raps about dime-pieces and cash. He’s got good flow and, owing to his music career, nice enunciation.

The MC revisits the same turf (streets and strip clubs) that many others have tread, yet for him and his audience this is a new experience to share, which makes this album a noteworthy accomplishment. Even when he falls short, he evokes comparisons to chart-toppers, and that’s a good thing for an aspiring rapper.

“Roses” employs a Kanye West-style old-school hook; “U Scared” is a poor man’s “Never Scared” by Bone Crusher; and “Get Low” is a strip club anthem evoking 50 Cent or Lloyd Banks. The best tracks, however, are the slow L.A. cruise “Roll The Dice” with Snoop, and dance floor-shaker “Get it In,” with its tight (if slightly derivative) beat and guest vocals from Method Man.

“Alter Ego’s” final song pits the singer against the rapper in a somewhat ridiculous battle of the wills, which ultimately illustrates that the artist hasn’t figured out how to let the two peacefully coexist.

This may be a problem in the future, as fans might not let him have his Sweet Lady and demoralize her, too.

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