Jim Jones / Byrd Gang

M.O.B.: The Album

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With Dipset brothers Jim Jones and Cam'ron showing little brotherly love for the past year or so, 2008 seemed the right time for Jones to face the "What color is your parachute?" question, because there's a chance it isn't Diplomats purple. Jones is in the weird position of being half hype-man, half rapper with a massive crossover hit -- "We Fly High" -- two years previous. He followed it up with the Dipset Christmas EP, a bad idea featuring a "We Fly High" remix, plus the underwhelming full-length Harlem's American Gangster. M.O.B.: The Album gets him back on track, not by aiming for the charts but by focusing on the hood and the quirky gutter rhymes that launched the man's career. Besides putting Jones in a comfortable, complementary setting, the album also introduces his crew, Byrd Gang, who are talented and hold plenty of promise. While listening to the on-point opener, "I'm the Man," and hearing lines like "We got money like the Reagan era," it's easy to imagine members Freekey, Chink Santana, Sandman, Mel Matrix, and the great NOE as an eventual replacement, or at least an alternative, to Dipset. They offer the addictive hits -- "Splash" and "Byrdgang Money," which originally appeared on Harlem's American Gangster -- along with the deep album cuts that bring some experimentation to street music. Jones' love of different sounds is found in the skittish, computer malfunction beat of "Throwin BG's" and the radiant "Money Right," a track brightened by Majik's innovative -- busy sequencer, slithering melody -- production and lines like "I feel like the constitution/I got the law on me." Producer Green Lantern brings a G-Unit flavor and nocturnal bump to the NOE showcase "Mobbin'," and Chink Santana helms a handful of tracks with skill. The album could do a better job sorting out the individual personalities within Byrd Gang, but a little overanxiousness is to be expected. Jones, on the other hand, is the big benefactor, proving he can return to the streets and thrive whether or not Cam and his purple gang still have love for this aloof, accidental platinum master of the ringtone.

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