“GUNZ N’ BUTTA,” CAM’RON & VADO "Gunz N' Butta," Cam'ron & Vado
On Cam’ron’s April 19 release “Gunz N’ Butta,” Cam teams up with Vado, his longtime friend and protege. Vado’s name is reportedly an acronym for “Violence and Drugs Only,” which basically covers the emotional depth of an album presented as a throwback to Cam’s rap group DipSet — plenty of drugs, cars and misogyny. Vado matches his mentor in intensity, but doesn’t come close to him lyrically. No one can put words together like Killa Cam.
It’s depressing to think about Cam’ron and what could have been. Cam founded DipSet on the streets of Harlem with childhood friends Jim Jones and Freekey Zekey, and after adding Juelz Santana in 2000, the group dominated the New York rap scene with a type of authority that hadn’t been seen since Biggie. DipSet blended street culture with commercially accessible, mainstream production, and their 2003 debut album “Diplomatic Immunity” launched the Harlem natives’ lucrative career.
The DipSet King hit his career peak and commercial prime on “Purple Haze,” a sprawling, 24-track album that combined pop-soul beats with explicit, ghetto storytelling. But even as the premier artist on the label, Cam left Roc-A-Fella Records in 2004, following Damon Dash out the door after Dash lost the presidency power struggle to Jay-Z. At the time, Tom Breihan of Pitchfork correctly predicted that Cam’s departure would mark “the end of an era — a time when a word-twisted surrealist amoral prince had the resources of rap’s most successful imprint at his disposal.”
Since 2004, the delicately constructed beats of Just Blaze, Kanye West, and Heatmakerz have given way to sub-par production. “Gunz N’ Butta” recruits the work of Araabmuzik, a Harlem-based producer who is repetitive, one-dimensional, and often condemned for making rough, mixtape-quality music.
Even Cam is aware of how far he’s fallen; on the track “American Greed,” Cam praises his protégé: “Vado’s got a vision, it’s so raw, say no more/Rewind, he remind me of me in ’04.” Cam’s got an eye for talent — he was largely responsible for Jim Jones’ and Juelz Santana’s emergence — but even his DipSet cronies have eclipsed him in popularity.
But what’s sad is that Cam’s diminishing relevance hasn’t come from a lack of talent. Through the cheap production of “Gunz N’ Butta,” Cam’s virtuosic flow is present as always, inverting and syncopating rhythms, rattling off tongue twisters with effortless lyricism. He’s a seasoned veteran now, and hasn’t been the king of anything for quite a long time. But he sounds the most relaxed he’s been in years on “Gunz N’ Butta,” and maybe the emergence of the blustery Vado is just what Cam’ron needs to regain his throne.