Review: AZ, ‘Doe or Die II’

Brooklyn legend AZ finally delivers the highly anticipated sequel to his classic debut, twenty-five years after its release, displaying his immense growth as an emcee.

In 1994, AZ made tremendous waves in hip-hop through his classic feature on the classic Illmatic cut, “Life’s a Bitch.” This opened the flood gates for a massive anticipation towards a debut record, which he delivered with his classic album, Doe or Die, in 1995. Since then, AZ has put in the blood, sweat and tears into his craft and developed a lifetime’s worth of experience, enough to supply fans with a sequel to his most definitive album.

Over twenty-five years since the release of its predecessor, Doe or Die II provides listeners a balance of mature content and inspiring rhymes that greatly represent the fundamentals of hip-hop.

The sequel to AZ’s classic project undertakes a satisfying run time of 42 minutes and thirteen songs making up the tracklist. Compared to its antecedent, Doe or Die II provides a similar atmosphere but definitively stands out in a catalog of classics. The exotic and polished production compliments AZ’s slick style perfectly, allowing his lyricism to prosper throughout the project.

“Three decades, hittin’ the fourth / A fifth of Smirnoff pour for n****s caught in the cross” is a fitting line for the lyrical content that AZ delivers on this album. Almost four decades in the game and AZ is solidifying his legendary status while his rapping is aging like fine wine. The content that AZ provides is more mature and greatly displays his growth over the years. Even though certain tracks show AZ focusing on the finer things in living an exotic life, tracks such as the gritty “Ritual” and the soulful “Different” show AZ embracing the grimy nature of the genre or expressing the hardships of life he’s had to endure.

While AZ is known for his amazing collaborations with other artists, the feature list this time around is quite random. The roster ranges from hip-hop legends Rick Ross & Lil Wayne to past-R&B heavy hitters T-Pain & Jaheim. While the collaborations seem sporadically chosen, the contributions work fairly well as each individual delivers solid efforts. However, the two major standouts occur on the tracks “Never Enough” & “Ritual”, with Rick Ross occupying one and the combination of Lil Wayne and Conway the Machine make up the other. Rick Ross delivers a typically exotic verse, matching the laid-back energy on “Never Enough”, while Lil Wayne and Conway go toe-to-toe with AZ over a grimy instrumental and provide exceptional verses on “Ritual.”

Besides AZ smooth flow and sleek lyricism, the core factor that allows this project to succeed is the production. On Doe or Die II, AZ links up with some of the best producers in the genre, including Pete Rock, Heatmakerz, Alchemist, Buckwild, and many more. These are the architects to the album’s timeless and soulful sound, notable on tracks like “Different” and “Time to Answer.” The only real way to explain this album’s production is: this album sounds like success; and AZ is making sure that you’re aware of his success beyond his guest appearances.

This album does a lot of things very well; from sequencing to rhyme schemes, Doe or Die II shows AZ getting comfortable with his elite status in rap, which also serves as the album’s minor setback. In a sense, AZ seems too comfortable throughout this project, which isn’t a negative thing. But comparing this to the ambitious debut that Doe or Die was, the sequel lacks the same level of energy. However, the project is still great and seeing AZ’s progress throughout the years is a motivating factor that helps build this album’s success.

Not every sequel satisfies its fanbase, but the extension to AZ’s debut album definitely hits the nail on the head. Doe or Die II displays a more accomplished AZ flaunting his success while telling tales of his rigorous come up over a superb selection of beats for production. While the project doesn’t take too many risks, the lush nature of the album still makes for a great listen. More than thirty years in the game and AZ is still delivering quality projects, extending his established catalog of classics.

7.5 / 10

Best tracks: “Never Enough”, “Different”, “Ritual”, “Found My Niche”, “Just 4 U”

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