While I was listening to Mack 10’s Soft White, I couldn’t help but wonder if gangsta rap was still relevant.
Discussing the lifestyles of inner city and urban youth, gangsta rap found its start in the late 1980s with guys like Ice-T and groups like N.W.A. telling shocking stories from the streets. With a healthy resentment for law enforcement, gangsta rap told the truth with respect to the experiences of many inner city youth.
But as times changed, so too did the impact of gangsta rap. With the East Coast/West Coast feud in the rear-view mirror, rap moved more into the mainstream and away from the violent imagery of artists like Tupac and Biggie. Part of the appeal of some of the great 1990s gangsta rap was that it sat well outside of the pop mainstream; it was dangerous and your parents would kill you for listening to it.
By the late 1990s, though, a shift took place. “Bling-bling” was introduced, sample-heavy backing tracks became the flavor of the day, and most rappers began to celebrate the acquisition of wealth rather than protesting the squalor of the inner city.
And then, before you could say “G-Unit,” gangsta rap wasn’t outside the mainstream anymore. Gangsta rap was the mainstream.
Some artists still try to sit outside the softened edges of gangsta pop and some have brought their history with them in hopes of boosting their credibility.
Mack 10 is one such artist. At 38-years-old, he's got several years behind him in the rap game. Since his debut in 1995, Mack 10 has been associated with WC and Ice Cube in Westside Connection and has steadily represented the West Coast while other rappers followed the mainstream’s flow right into watered-down, pop-rap territory.
Soft White, Mack 10’s ninth solo record and first in about four years, finds the rapper getting personal while refusing to abandon the swagger of the streets. With a mix of California beats and Southern-fried tang, the record is about what you’d expect musically.
As personal as Mack 10 gets on tracks like “Mirror Mirror” and “It’s Your Life,” Soft White stumbles thanks to too many guest spots. It takes all of three full songs to get Mack 10 in the spotlight for the first time. This deluge of guest appearances also robs the album of its drive, creating the feeling that Soft White is a compilation rather than a satisfying record from a gangsta rap veteran.
Glasses Malone is probably the best of the guests, putting in work on three tracks. His appearance on “Street Shit” is worth noting, as he adds a nice flow to Mike City’s Dr. Dre-inspired production.
Overall, Soft White doesn’t do enough to share a clear message. Mack 10 gets lost in the storm of guest spots, allowing listeners into the core of what kept him representing the West only a few times. It’s a dull record, sadly, and Mack 10 misses a golden opportunity to prove that his genre is still significant and still worth listening to.