Listening to Steal Hear, I can’t help but ponder the meaning of the title. Obviously it’s meant to evoke perseverance, that no matter how many locations the epicenter of the rap world shifts to, no matter how many rappers feud, no matter what seminal singles come out, there’s still a barely-talented Busta Rhymes wannabe pumping out records on whatever indie label decides to stake what little assets it has on a one-hit wonder whose primary contribution to pop culture was a soundtrack cut on a mid-90s inspiring-teacher-in-less-than-ideal-circumstances tearjerker. But while Coolio is “Steal Hear,” so are many of the tracks from his last album. That’s right, if you picked up Coolio’s 2006 release, “Return of the Gangsta,” you got 9 of the 15 tracks here. So maybe the title of the album is more pointed toward reminding the people who forgot about him after Gangsta’s Paradise dropped off the charts. And then there’s the literal meaning of the title: is Coolio suggesting you actually “steal” what you “hear,” and just download his record off the Internet instead of purchasing it at the store? This seems palatable for someone whose debut record is entitled “It Takes a Thief.” While Beats Per Millennium would never endorse music piracy, I think Coolio has done the endorsing on our behalf. We’re just happy to get the word out.
Despite the unconscionable act of recycling tracks from album to album, Coolio is still a passable, if largely uninteresting, party rapper. Nowhere will you find another rapper as desperate as Coolio to remind everyone that he is a gangsta – the album kicks off with “Gangster Walk,” which features Snoop Dogg, who is phoning it in like Coolio was on Millionaire. The record ends with “Keep it Gangsta,” in which he encourages all his friends from around the nation to… keep it gangsta. Rounding out the Gangsta Trilogy is the lowest point on the album, “Lady & A Gangsta,” which he apparently did with who I’m assuming is his girlfriend, K-La. K-La is about as good an MC as Coolio is, except she has the audacity to end three or four lines in the first verse with -izzle about two years after white people over the age of 40 inherited -izzle and the hip hop world started using -eezy. Coolio tries to invoke Al Capone and attempts to inherit the mantle of Ashford and Simpson or Bobby and Whitney but he really just isn’t selling it. I don’t know, I can’t imagine anyone trying to make love to two of the most average MCs on the planet.
There’s “Cruise Off.” which is a paid advertisement for Chevrolet in the first verse and quasi-political in the second. It has one of the better beats on the album (apparently no one wants to give sample clearance to Coolio anymore so most of his his beats are stale as hell). It’s not a great beat. It’s OK. His flow falls apart in the last verse, but it’s got a decent hook and I would play it in my car if I happened to have it on hand. I wouldn’t put it on any mix CDs, but it’s an alright song. “It’s On” makes an earnest attempt to create a song for this decade out of parts left over from 1994 that says that he is hardcore because of global warming and the impending World War III that no one told me about, but he gets off a few good lines. “Keep On Dancing” has Coolio sounding like Rhymefest on a bad day, which is probably a decent place for him to be. Think “Stick” without the line about Rhymefest’s penis causing a solar eclipse and you are on the right track.
This would be a much better album if there was better production backing everything up, to distract the ear from Coolio’s average rapping skills. There are a few moments where it works – “Motivation” has a strong enough beat that you can ignore that Coolio is making no fucking sense, and “One More Night” has Coolio trying to sound sincere over some soft strings. It’s not a huge mistake, and it’s not a giant triumph, it just leaves you wishing Coolio rolled the dice a few more times with live instrumentation. One of the few beats where all the parts, no matter how well worn, fit together to form a working engine is that of “Boyfriend,” arguably the most party-ready track on the album (assuming you’d find anyone to argue with).
There aren’t a lot of excuses for bad production anymore, and Coolio’s command of the mic isn’t strong enough to overshadow the beats. He’s best when he’s talking about partying and dancing, and he’s at his shallowest when he thinks you’ve forgotten about his scores on the Gangsta Aptitude Test (GAT). He can still craft a decent hook. If you’re looking for a record you can turn on at a Rap Party and ignore, then this one will do you good. Here’s a thought experiment that should determine how much you like this album. What do you expect from a mid-90s one-hit wonder, 15 years later? This album is neither better nor worse than the album you have envisioned in your brain. Awesome!
P.S.: Coolio has a reality show on Oxygen. What?
Posted by Joe Kaiser at Nov 04, 2008 12:00 AM