Do The Hustle

Never mind the alter-ego hubbub, this album is all about the music.

Melvin Flynt: Da Hustler is almost worth the price of admission

just for the skit "The Pigeon," in which a blunt-smoking Noreaga explains

to a buddy that pigeons are just like roughneck hip-hop fans: they get

no respect, they don't give a fuck and you're not going to see them go

chirp-chirp-chirp in some tree. He concludes his mini-rant by declaring

that if pigeons were humans, they'd be thugs.

And if they were rappers, we'd be a lucky bunch of music fans, if they

all produced gangsta-rap albums as engaging as Melvin Flynt: Da Hustler,

Noreaga's second solo album.

Last year, Noreaga's hard-hitting electro "Superthug" painted him as,

well, a superthug, but this year he's had a change of heart in the persona

of Melvin Flynt (part Jack Nicholson's character in "As Good as It Gets,"

part infamous porn publisher Larry Flynt). As an alter-ego, Melvin Flynt

isn't as distinctive from its creator as Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, Bono's

The Fly or Eminem's Slim Shady, but the music and beats on this disc are

tight enough to make up for any shortcomings in character development.

Noreaga spends a good portion of the album talking about the means to

his ends, over electro loops that sometimes feel like a punch ("Cocaine

Business [Hysteria]," "Flagrant Cops") and at other times feel like a

threatening stare from across the room ("Oh No" [RealAudio

excerpt], "Going Legit").

The most hustle-centric songs on the album — "Da Hustla," "Cocaine

Business (Hysteria)" (RealAudio

excerpt) and "Blood Money Pt. 3" — are among its best

cuts.

And just to keep ya' on your toes, Noreaga gets philosophical on "Sometimes" (RealAudio

excerpt) and "First Day Home."

Lyrically, however, Noreaga shows no growth — a crime he cops to

in the album's liner notes. In particular, his "what-what?!" chant once

again dominates, long after it has worn out its welcome.

Only the most hard-core Noreaga fans will (or should) buy this CD for

the lyrics — the true treasures here are musical.

Though helmed by an army of producers, a unified sound of layered

electro-funk manages to be consistent from start to finish. The bass-heavy

"Cocaine Business (Hysteria)," the steel-drum flavored "First Day Home"

the Southern bounce of "Play That Shit" (featuring Juvenile) and the

hardcore "Wethuggedout" (featuring Missy Elliott) could all have come

from very different albums, but the stuttering beats and synth-driven

grooves pull them into a tight package.

Ultimately, Melvin Flynt: Da Hustler stands out because it is an

actual hip-hop album — as opposed to the three-good-singles-and-a-buncha-crap

that many rap albums turn out to be.

Going back to Noreaga's (right on the money) pigeon metaphor — he's

just thrown some wonderfully exotic bread to his fans. Waddle on over

and get yourself a crumb before some old man throws down some Wonderbread.