Trigger Tha Gambler's rap career started in 1996 when he appeared on Once Upon a Time In America (which I reviewed here), the debut album of his brother, Smoothe Da Hustler. Trigger teamed up with Smoothe for four songs, with "Broken Language" and "My Brother My Ace" being the two biggest "hits." Def Jam liked his performance so much that they signed him to a deal.
Little did Trigger Tha Gambler know that he was about to be screwed over (a record label screwing over an artist? Never).
His first single, "My Crew Can't Go For That" (which featured Smoothe Da Hustler), actually garnered some radio airplay and reaffirmed Def Jam's faith in their decision to sign the man. However, that faith quickly dissipated once they heard Trigger's finished product, Life's a 50/50 Gamble.
The label shelved the album, and it was never officially released. I guess it wasn't "radio-friendly" enough, and let's remember that 1998 represented a time where we were beginning to see a shift in hip-hop, a shift that would ultimately destroy the genre and result in the type of garbage that we hear permeating the airwaves today.
Trigger Tha Gambler would never be heard from as a solo artist again. He made a few guest appearances here and there, but that was it. My guess is that he became so disgusted with the industry that he simply chose to give up and pursue other interests, but who knows what really happened?
Anyway, Life's a 50/50 Gamble is produced entirely by DR Period, the man who also produced most of Once Upon a Time In America. So, obviously, you'd expect the two projects to sound very similar.
I am actually not sure how similar this LP sounds to Smoothe's debut disc, however, for the mere fact that this will be my first time listening to it. Yep; that's right. Life's a 50/50 Gamble will be a new experience for what I assume to be all of us.
Let's see how right or wrong of a decision Def Jam made.
A standard intro? Well, so far I'm siding with Def Jam.
Well, not anymore. Trigger Tha Gambler gets things off to an awesome start with the first actual song on the album. DR Period's beat knocks, and D.V. Alias Khrist comes through and puts down an outstanding guest appearance much like he did on Smoothe Da Hustler's "Dollar Bill." It also helps that Trigger freaking rips this.
3. My Crew Can't Go For That
The aforementioned first single by Trigger Tha Gambler. D.V. Alias Khrist is here again, and not surprisingly, he delivers, although this isn't as good as some of his other guest spots. Smoothe Da Hustler also makes his first of many appearances on Life's a 50/50 Gamble, and as you're listening to his verses on this track, you'll have to remind yourself that this is not Once Upon a Time In America. The overall verdict for "My Crew Can't Go For That"? It's decent, but DR Period's instrumental leaves a little to be desired.
4. Broken Language Pt. 2
The sequel to Once Upon a Time In America's "Broken Language." To be perfectly honest, this sounds strikingly similar to the original. I do like Trigger's performance on this better than the former, however. That's all I've got.
5. Nickel Plated Nine
DR Period certainly likes using piano-laden samples; that's for sure. This is pretty boring overall.
6. Nothing Can Stop Me
I actually like this quite a bit. DR Period's production is thoroughly engaging, and Case adds a nice element to the record with his crooning on the hook. Plus, Wu-Tang affiliate Rhyme Recka comes through and drops a couple of pretty tight verses to complement Trigger Tha Gambler's satisfactory output.
7. 50/50 Gamble
I really like Trigger as an MC. He takes what is nothing more than a decent beat on "50/50 Gamble" and makes it infinitely listenable with an extremely dope performance on the mic. Smoothe Da Hustler is on this cut as well, but he only does the hook. That's a good thing, too, because it would have been a shame if he interrupted this scintillating showing by his brother.
8. Smoothe Da Hustler Interlude
9. Welcome To The World
This is alright. DR Period's beat is kind of bland, and while Trigger Tha Gambler is once again solid, this time, his raps just aren't enough to overcome the repetitive instrumental. Also, this album may as well have been called Once Upon a Time In America Pt. 2.
What the hell is that on DR Period's production? A freaking orgasm? This is absolutely awful. Good God. Not even D.V. Alias Khrist is able to save this song from its utter awfulness, and Smoothe Da Hustler sounds incredibly out of his element on the fast-paced production.
DR Period's beat sounds like something RZA would have made when he was 12. Still, anything that resembles a prime RZA instrumental is passable in my book. I'm not sure what purpose Foxy Brown's contribution served, though. At the very least, this is a hell of a lot better than "Bust," although I suppose that is not much of an accomplishment.
12. Can U Feel It
Alright. This album is really starting to get boring.
13. Meetcha Maker
Keith Murray stops by here, and appropriately, DR Period's production sounds very Erick Sermon-ish. Albeit, it's more of a poor man's Erick Sermon beat, but it works, nonetheless. Murray steals the show, although Trigger is able to remain in the same ballpark.
Rhyme Recka, who actually sounds quite a bit like Redman, makes his second appearance on Life's a 50/50 Gamble here, and he does a great job over a solid beat. Trigger Tha Gambler comes correct, as well. The only downside to "Scandalous" is the fact that D.V. Alias Khrist comes with what is probably his weakest (and most useless) performance.
15. Make a Move
I like this one a lot. DR Period's instrumental is almost J Dilla-like with a touch of Da Beatminerz, and Trigger rips it. D.V. Alias Khrist drops a pretty awesome verse, too. This is a great way to end the album, which really picked up some much-needed momentum at its conclusion.
Life's a 50/50 Gamble is a decent album that absolutely (and not surprisingly) parallels Smoothe Da Hustler's Once Upon a Time In America. Trigger Tha Gambler is thoroughly entertaining throughout, and although some of DR Period's beats are pretty bland, enough of them work to make this listenable.
As you can tell, there are quite a bit of guest appearances on this project, and while that is usually frowned upon, they predominantly work here. Rhyme Recka shines twice, and D.V. Alias Khrist adds a nice element to most of the songs he is on. That dude really should have blown up. I'm not sure why he didn't.
So, did Def Jam make a mistake in shelving this?
Well, yes and no.
Yes in the fact that Life's a 50/50 Gamble is certainly a competent LP that would have been looked favorably upon by hip-hop critics, and no because it sounded far too much like Once Upon a Time In America and probably would not have moved too many units.
Is that necessarily fair? No, because there has been plenty of trash released on Def Jam, but let's be honest: in 1998, we were beginning to reach a point where actual quality did not matter as much. Hip-hop had fallen off dramatically after '96, and much of that blame falls on the record labels.
Anyway, if you liked Once Upon a Time In America, you should definitely give this a spin. Everyone else can just pick and choose your favorite tracks from here and put those onto your iPod.
2. Make a Move
3. Nothing Can Stop Me
4. 50/50 Gamble