It's hard to believe that The Greatest Story Never Told is officially Saigon's debut album. The Brownsville, Brooklyn MC first started talking about it, by name, back in 2004, in his Warning Shots mixtape, posted updates about it in 2006, announced its arrival in 2007, and now, finally, after various setbacks legal and otherwise, put it out in early 2011. This also means that most of these songs have been done for a while -- "Come on Baby" even leaked in 2007, albeit in slightly different form, and there are references to events, like Katrina, that while certainly not irrelevant, are not quite as much in the musical parlance as they were a couple of years prior (add this to the fact there's a "hidden" track, "Too Long," which comes after two minutes of silence, and you wonder if Saigon hasn't realized people often buy mp3s before CDs).
These are just small complaints, though, because not only is most of what Saigon says pertinent, it's spot on. He's an intelligent rapper, and has clearly matured in the time it's taken for the album to be released (even the distance between Greatest Story… and his 2009 mixtape, Warning Shots 2 -- which featured the track "For Some Pussy" -- is striking). Which isn't to say he's any less angry about the socio-economic conditions hindering the inner city, but he seems less likely to strike out, less bitter about his own experiences. This makes for a more focused record -- an almost impressive accomplishment considering the album spans 18 tracks and nearly 80 minutes; he has his topics ("It's realer than 9/11, I rhyme about lying reverends/…I rap about politicians, how money's their acquisition/to get it, they gotta keep us without a pot to piss in," he outlines in the excellent title track) and he's sticking to them. This focus, this continuity, is helped immensely by Just Blaze, who handles almost all of the production, and keeps things from ending up as indulgent and sprawling (Saigon is also signed to Blaze's Fort Knocks Entertainment label). Blaze has always been a very involved, musically attuned producer, and his attention to detail is evident here, from the alarm clock motif to the way he transitions between tracks. The long stretch from "Clap" to "Give It to Me," for example (five otherwise excellent songs that all should've been trimmed by a couple of minutes), is made manageable, even enjoyable, by the way the MC and the producer work to connect both the musical and lyrical content. "Clap," which has Sai rhyming about community action, moves into a gospel-y hook by Faith Evans, and then the beginnings of sermon, before "Preacher" actually begins (not a complimentary song: "We was muthafucking paying your mortgage/while we was living in the projects, you know we couldn't afford it," goes one particularly vitriolic line) into the hopeful and affirming "It's Alright" (produced by Kanye West). It's the kind of thing that requires a commitment from the listener, but Saigon and the people around him are talented enough to pull it off, even to make it enjoyable, which makes The Greatest Story Never Told one definitely worth hearing.