Born too late to appreciate fully the golden era of the West Coast hip-hop genre, 20-year-old Los Angeles MC Dijon Thames Shariff, aka Mann, now seems on a mission to bring the dominant urban sound of the early '90s back to life, with his unashamedly retro debut album, Mann's World. The protégé of producer J.R. Rotem (who provides his annoying signature siren to several of its ten tracks) may have cited the likes of The Chronic and Doggystyle as its major influences, but despite the presence of Snoop Dogg on the Mark Morrison-sampling G-funk of "The Mack" and a high-pitched synth riff pinched from "Nuthin' But a G Thang" on the biographical tale "Gold Herringbone," it has very little in common with the tough-talking gangster and stoner rap of his idols. Instead, it's a carefree pure party record that evokes the self-deprecating hip-hop of Skee-Lo, the more cartoonish output of Coolio, and at times the sample-heavy pop-rap of Will Smith. Indeed, Mann certainly isn't afraid to plunder the similar jukebox of sounds as the latter, even if he does appear to be slightly tentative about doing anything remotely inventive with it. "Buzzin," the recent U.K. Top Ten single that borrows the echoed melody from Nu Shooz's "I Can't Wait," and the soulful slow jam "Reminisce," which features the slick sax hook from Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth's "They Reminisce Over You," are both infectious, glossily produced affairs but would undoubtedly lose most of their impact without their rather obvious samples, while "Get It Girl," an unsurprisingly heavily Auto-Tuned collaboration with T-Pain, makes the Crazy Frog's cover of Jan Hammer's Beverly Hills Cop theme appear subtle. However, Mann is capable of producing equally feel-good results without resorting to lifting such hefty chunks of classic material. "Wanna Go Back" is a slightly melancholic chilled-out ode to his '90s youth featuring some impressively soulful vocals from emerging artist Lydia Caesar; "Shaded Up Chillin'" is a convincing stab at replicating LL Cool J's renowned "loverman" schtick; while the Chris Brown-esque "Dance the Night Away" is made palatable by the fact that it's the only attempt at the ubiquitous electro R&B sound currently flooding the charts. Mann's first offering is occasionally as uninspiring as his name, but ironically, for a record so firmly stuck in the '90s, it's still a breath of fresh air in a commercial hip-hop scene that lately appears to have abandoned its roots.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien