Album of the Week: Black Rob’s Life Story (2000)

I didn’t know much about Black Rob before he passed in 2021, except his song “Can I Live” with The LOX, which has a beautiful beat and finds Styles P fantasizing about “hang-glid[ing] to the Alps with a fly chick”. One of Bad Boy’s most promising artists after Biggie’s passing, Rob was featured on Motown’s “I Want You Back ’98”, a Jackson 5 remix that dropped, strangely, not 30 but 29 years after the original. Why this track was made, I’m not sure, but rapping on a track with (the then-living) Michael Jackson must have been a promising early-career move for Rob.

What followed in 1999 was the recording of Rob’s debut Life Story, including the smash lead single “Whoa!”, which has largely held up well (other than the f-slur). The Buckwild beat is bonkers, and Black Rob sells the single title as a catchall response to anything remarkable. Also worth pointing out is the 8-minute remix with Rah Digga, Beanie Sigel and more. Whoa.

But Life Story is a surprisingly solid front-to-back album. The title track is captivating as a wistful growing-up-in-the-ghetto song (“living in this tenement, eating stale Entenmann’s”). Rob’s character is quickly established: a hard-nosed jailbird who perseveres through life struggles by rapping. Somewhat unexpectedly, CeeLo Green appears as the album’s first rap feature on “Lookin’ at Us”, and he kills it. Sometimes I forgot how good at rapping CeeLo is. Then we have a Bad Boy posse cut with Diddy, Mase and G-Dep on “Down the Line Joint”.

Later on, “B.R.” is some expert noir-rap with gritty rhymes and the beat to match. “Thug Story” is a Slick Rick callback, and “Jasmine” is steel-drum infected storytelling rap. “I Love You Baby” originally appeared on the Puff & The Family album No Way Out (1997), which went 7x Platinum. Things wrap up with some pep on “I Dare You” (that’s after the J-Lo feature). I really like this album. It’s packed to the gills but there is nary a garbage track to be found. God bless Black Rob.

Listen to Life Story here.

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