Once, Young MC was a more clever Fresh Prince, a guy whose pop hits tapped the same middle-class themes without all the smarminess. Things might have worked out better if Young MC (aka Marvin Young) had been insufferable instead: while Will Smith was plugging his latest blockbuster film, Men in Black II, with an accompanying single, Young was releasing this comeback on a small independent label to little fanfare. However, time and circumstances haven't eroded Young MC's mic skills. Still one of the wittiest rhymers around, he sounds like he's back to his old chart-topping form on Engage the Enzyme, which is full of tunes that back his sly observations with sturdy hooks. Of course, Young MC knows the odds against scoring another hit; "Stress Test" details the music industry's disinterest in his kinder, gentler approach. But that doesn't diminish the simple pleasures of "Unsigned Diva," a tale of bootylicious wannabe singers, or "Heatseeker," where the star tries to score at a club and is advised, "Young MC is much thinner/And he's got more hair." The album's finest moment, however, is "Crucial" -- which not only became hip-hop's best 9/11 song on its release, but easily bettered most of the attempts in any musical genre to capture that fateful day. Unencumbered by the conspiracy-theory paranoia of many of Young MC's peers, or the moral relativism of the rock world, "Crucial" is a straightforward recounting of the attacks and their aftermath that isn't afraid to blame the terrorists or display some authentic patriotism. "I never really been a big fan of war/But if we don't fight now, what will we fight for?" demands Young MC; the irony is that a belief shared by so many Americans could have so little chance of reaching them, as there was scant chance hip-hop radio would have any use for the song or its sentiments. Yet those who seek it out -- along with the rest of Engage the Enzyme -- will find it more than worth their trouble.
AllMusic Review by Dan LeRoy
feat: Wil Wheaton