Six years ago in a rap game that was just starting to usher in the new guard, Jadakiss (Jason Phillips) of Yonkers, NY, The LOX and D-Block released his third studio album, The Last Kiss. It might very well be his last kiss, but it surely wasn’t the last of Jadakiss, who is still a sought after feature in hip-hop after twenty plus years in the industry. Top 5 Dead or Alive, his fourth LP, comes out today (Friday, Nov. 20), and while it may not make a bulletproof case for putting him in the top five rappers of all time, it does continue his solid solo discography, which started back in 2001 with Kiss Tha Game Goodbye followed by Kiss of Death in 2004. This Top 5 album boasts Jadakiss as he has always been, raspy, lyrical and gangsta, and it’s got a rugged feel and many great guests. Fans have been served all of this before in the same format, but it is Jada’s plentiful new rhymes that will have them flocking back.
He starts by bragging and flagrantly calling himself “top 5 dead or alive” in “First 48” and follows it up with a skit in which a man talks down the importance of “bars” in today’s hip-hop (“Shop Talk”). Clearly, Jadakiss’s intent is to debunk the sentiment with his own hardcore bars, and he is mostly successful to that end. Top 5 is very familiar and typical for Jadakiss overall though. He sticks to the street code, rues childhood criminals, takes one trip to the strip club and generally just keeps it hood for the full hour. His “don’t shoot, can’t breathe” statement in “Jason” adequately connects him to the Black Lives Matter movement, and his messages of courage, confidence and commitment elsewhere are needed to supplement the many prominent hustler-sections. It all ends with “One More Mile To Go,” a standard empowerment song and a good enough way to end the album.
You have to hand it to Jadakiss for continuing to stir up excitement with his recognizable style and voice, even if he doesn’t have a ton of different angles technically speaking. His companions on this Def Jam sponsored LP are mostly old friends except for Future, Wiz Khalifa, Nipsey Hussle and his new protégé Young Adz so Top 5 is authentic indeed. The production is both of Jada’s era and equipped with arsenals of drill so the music benefits from that update though a few parts are quite hectic and discordant (the harsh cluttered beat of “You Can See” and the buzzy shrieking one on “Man in the Mirror”). A heavy title to live up to, Top 5 Dead or Alive does save itself from embarrassment thankfully. Nothing is terribly flawed or weak, and it does have what big Jadakiss fans love most about him, his gruff, guttural unhurried style and plenty of his nonstop ruthless rhymes.