After a 16 year hiatus and following successful solo careers, steadily releasing various solo studio albums and projects rappers Sheek Louch, Styles P and Jadakiss have once again joined forces and reunited as The LOX to release their third studio album Filthy America…It’s Beautiful. The album comes off the release of two previous EP’s The Trinity and The Trinity 2nd Sermon released in 2013 and 2014 respectively. However, Filthy America…It’s Beautiful is the first official album from The LOX since the group’s sophomore album We Are The Streets back in 2000. Released through Roc Nation and D-Block Records, Filthy America…It’s Beautiful sees The LOX return to deliver a follow up album (after all three members have enjoyed successful solo careers over the past decade and a half) even if ultimately ending up with mixed results.
Filthy America…It’s Beautiful features several respected producers, recruiting the musical talents of Dame Grease, Pete Rock and long time collaborator, DJ Premier amongst others. The album also features a relatively minimal cast of guest performers, featuring performances from Mobb Deep, Fetty Wap and Gucci Mane as well as InfaRed and Dyce Payne who make appearances throughout the album’s run time. The LOX shine brightest when they return to their roots and stick to their New York essence. Highlights from the album such as the DJ Premier produced ‘Move Forward’ is a gritty, boom-bap induced return to the group’s genesis that invoke memories of the group’s hey-day back in the late 90’s. It’s tracks like this on the album where The LOX truly astound and sound the most comfortable over. While much of the production throughout the album tries it best to blend The LOX’s hard-nosed, in your face, no nonsense rhyme delivery with that of contemporary production styles, Premier sticks to his classic, signature, time tested style of chopped dusty samples, scratched hooks and grimy, pounding drums that is explicitly made for the streets and unapologetically New York. A welcomed move, given that in recent years much of New York’s current and upcoming crop of artists have been crafting music that sounds more like it came out of Houston or Atlanta rather than the 5 boroughs. Another stand out cut is the album’s title track, ‘Filthy America’ produced by Pete Rock, another staple in New York Hip-Hop. Rock supplies hauntingly subdued production, laced with rhodes keys and crisp drums, while Sheek, Styles and Jada through the course of a mock trial explore the systematic injustices and double standards young Black men and greater Black America has historically and still continues to suffer at the hands of United States ‘justice’ system. The song is without a doubt one of a few highlights on the album and showcases The LOX at their best when the crew takes a break from the braggadocio and decadence that dominates a majority of the album to address serious, real world issues and societal ills.
However, with the exception of these and a couple more tracks Filthy America…It’s Beautiful largely falls flat both production wise and in the guest appearance department. When the album gets good, it’s really good. However, when it gets bad, it’s really bad. As mentioned before, the album falls victim like the works of many other New York artists trying too hard to capture and emulate cliches of modern contemporary Hip-Hop artist. Between the lackluster production and haphazardly selected guest features, the album never quite finds its rhythm and just sounds disjointed through much of its run time. Some tracks such as ‘The Agreement’ featuring Fetty Wap are complete misfires, while the album’s closing track ‘Secure the Bag’ featuring Gucci Mane and InfaRed, and even the ramblings of DJ Khaled in the songs intro sound horrendous and stick out like a sore thumb. With Gucci Mane even going as far to rap “I take the good with the bad, I can even sell trash” one has to wonder if The LOX actually took this verse to heart. The song sounds like hot garbage and an obvious, cheap, lazy cash in to capitalize on a hot guest feature of an in demand artist. Sadly it’s songs like this that do distract the listener and ultimately cheapen the album. While Filthy America…It’s Beautiful does offer moments that are genuinely beautiful and has its share of powerful verses and poignant moments, on more than just several occasions the album just simply feels forced and sounds like it’s trying too hard to be commercial and emulate the common sounds and trappings of contemporary Hip-Hop music. Many of these guest spots and productions feel and sound like something that should have gone on a LOX mixtape or maybe even found its way onto another EP. However, as tracks on a studio album, and a comeback at that to make up for 16 years of lost time; the tracks feel like rushed, spur of the moment collaborations that were made simply to cash in on the current commercial appeal of the given featured artist and come across as such. It’s doubtful many fans of The LOX were clamoring to hearing Fetty Wap or Gucci Mane collaborate with Sheek, Styles and Jada or hear the Yonkers trio rhyme over generic sounding, emulation trap beats and such tracks are a testament to just how forced some these records sound and feel.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect the album does suffer from is what it lacks, and that unfortunately is the absence of the L.E.S. produced track ‘What Happens?’ featuring J-Doe. A song decrying the epidemic of police brutality and killings of Black citizens rampant across the country, which was released over the summer as a single exclusively on TIDAL in response to the aftermath following the graphic, extrajudicial executions of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The absence of the track is immensely felt, especially given the songs heart wrenching subject matter and fiery delivery from The LOX which not only makes a powerful statement and bold stance vehemently condemning vile police brutality and violence in all its forms, but a call to arms to organize and push back. It’s unfortunate that the song, which could have easily served as an extra bonus track was ultimately left off the album’s final track listing and abandoned on the cutting room floor, left to quickly sink into relative obscurity as a free internet single. A tragedy in its own right, especially since the song would have felt right at home amongst the production on the album’s other tracks tonally and made a strong statement, which The LOX obviously isn’t afraid of doing. The absence of ‘What Happens?’ marks a missed opportunity of a powerful record that undoubtedly would have found an audience on Filthy America…It’s Beautiful.
In a year that has been filled with a variety of reunions and comebacks in the rap game Filthy America…It’s Beautiful simply falls flat and hits far too many sour notes. At a length of just 12 tracks, 2 of them being completely unneeded and unnecessary skits. The album is one of the few that actually could have benefitted from an overabundance of tracks to give variety and pad out the album’s misfires. After a 16 year absence the album severely underperforms below its expectations, trying harder to sound like every other generic, flavor of the month rapper’s current hit than it does actually trying to sound like a LOX album. Given the group’s notoriety and the veteran status all three members enjoy in the rap game it’s baffling to speculate why a larger cast of producers and veteran guest performers wasn’t assembled to assist on the album. Why not enlist past collaborators such Swiss Beatz, Timbaland or even D-Dot? The group obviously went through the trouble of getting DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Dame Grease and even Mobb Deep to contribute, which all sound really good and undoubtedly contribute the majority of album’s highlights. After 16 years, why not go all out and bring back more of the people that unquestionably contributed to The LOX legacy and helped make it it what is today?
At the end of the day, Filthy America…It’s Beautiful is more disappointing than it is bad. It it bad? Yes, there are certainly moments that definitely are. Is it the worst album to come out this year? No, of course not. But as a studio album the record is easily the worst that the trio has ever put out. At a run time of 39 minutes long (not including the two skits), Filthy America…It’s Beautiful is a mixed bag that displays small, but ever so brief glimpses of promise that either never pan out or go completely nowhere. This is made even more disappointing by the fact that the group has proven that they can still make great music, even their ‘throw away’ tracks showed promise and made powerful statements. It’s hopeful that sooner, rather than later Sheek Louch, Styles P and Jadakiss reunite once again and assemble the right cast to craft a proper follow up LOX record with the proper production, devoid of needless filler and pointless guest features. Until then, unless you’re truly a die-hard LOX fan, this is one record you can pass by.
Filthy America…It’s Beautiful is available in stores now to purchase & to stream on Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music & iTunes.