Return of the Living Dead

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E.S.G. returned from prison in 1998 a very different rapper than he had been in 1995 when he scored himself a big hit with "Swangin' and Bangin'." As evidenced on Return of the Living Dead, the change isn't necessarily a bad one, as E.S.G.'s rapping has actually improved and he's certainly more thoughtful than before. His world view had been tainted, though, during his time in prison, for better or worse. The glints of hardcore characteristics that had characterized his 1995 work have been compounded here. It's somewhat a sign of the times, since rap took a general turn toward the dark side in the wake of 2Pac and Biggie's deaths and had shown omens of doing so even before, but it's also E.S.G. himself who seems to have darkened. He flows a bit more rugged than before, and he raps mostly about the dark side of urban life -- crime, drugs, violence, dirty money, and so on -- rather than good times. The distinctly Houston production style certainly helps the end result. The rhythms lope more than they hit or boom, and the emphasis is on lo-fi home-brewed funk with a syrupy pace rather than hip-hop à la New York, G-funk à la Cali, or bass à la Atlanta.

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