Theoretically, Philadelphia's Beanie Sigel could be preparing for rap superstardom. Jay-Z's "retirement" has created a power vacuum in the Roc-A-Fella kingdom. Though Kanye West has the platinum and talent to take the throne, he hardly fits the street pedigree on which Jay-Z and owner Dame Dash made their fortune. Recently released from prison, Beanie Sigel is a much better candidate, at least on paper.
Beanie caught a murder charge while recording The B.Coming. Instead of the obviously delayed album, he released Public Enemy #1, a mixtape combining freestyles, shouts from jail and some of the finished tracks, bolstered by guest spots from his State Property crew. The tape was extremely popular and created a significant buzz around the unreleased album. Combined with the unfortunate publicity from a rapper going to jail, The B.Coming could be huge. The combination of Beanie's extremely earnest intensity with his choice of plodding soul-drenched beats creates an album with an immediacy and passion not seen since the sadder parts of Jay-Z's The Blueprint. The best of the melancholy tracks is a bizarre anti-single: "Feel It in the Air" pits Beanie against a sax and his own thug spider-sense. Beanie brings his top lyrics to other tracks, going line for line with Redman and Jay-Z on "One Shot Deal" (produced by the underrated Bink) and "Once Again," respectively. For all his earnestness and flow, what Beanie cannot do is pop music. "Don't Stop" puts Snoop on the hooks and Pharrell on the beat, but Beanie sounds uncomfortable surrounded by all the friendly shininess. The track is strangely good but still feels forced. Of the remaining tracks, only the Bon Jovi-sampling "On the Run" (with Cam'ron) even resembles a single. The B.Coming could be one of the best rap albums to come out this year, but Roc-A-Fella still needs a new king.