When it comes to sequels and especially even more so in music. Than any other field. It is generally harder to top the original, let alone even match it. For legendary Brooklyn-bred emcee, AZ, who just a few months ago, celebrated the 25 years anniversary of his classic and critically-acclaimed debut album, Doe or Die. Now seems as perfect a time as ever. For him to drop the long-awaited and highly-anticipated sequel, Doe or Die II. Which he has been teasing for well over a decade and finally dropped a little over three months ago.
The sequel is well worth the wait too. As, AZ, delivers an album that, though not as good as the original. Is still a pretty solid album in its own right. That is another stone-cold classic album from, AZ. The soulful and cinematic P. Soul-produced intro, which features wise words of wisdom being spoken from, Idris Elba. As Donna Lugassy, also so angelically sings in the background. The perfect way to kickoff and let you know what type of nostalgically great album, you are about to embark on. That perfectly seguing into the very smooth piano-laden Bink!-produced single, Just 4 U. A very nostalgic cut. Where, AZ, delivers bars such as, “I lack limits. Overachiever, the home of believers. Live since Latifah, ice cold with the divas.” To let the listener’s know from the jump. That even though he maybe considered an overachiever by many and as arguably the most underrated emcee of all-time. He is still one of the coldest emcees ever and he has the bars to prove it. Which you can hear in the countless amount of wisdom he drops on the next track as well. The previously released Kaygee-produced single, The Wheel. That features Grammy-nominated singer and fellow veteran, Jaheim. As he provides a very classic hook. To provide the perfect compliment to AZ’s many countless bars of wisdom. He provides about the vicious cycle of life. That is like a wheel, many go through.
The very smooth and lush luxurious sounds of most of the production throughout the album. Is what makes, Doe or Die II, so great too. As it allows the focus to be on, AZ’s stellar inspiring grown man bars of wisdom throughout all 13 tracks. Whether it be previous released single, Different or both Baby Paul-produced tracks, Keep It Real and Never Enough. With the latter by far one of the highlights of the album. That features, Rick Ross and shows the undeniably great chemistry between, AZ and Ross. As over the soulfully jazzy sax background, they rap about the finer things in life. The beautifully amazing hook from, Mara Kaye, making it one of those real blockbuster tracks. You will keep going back to and can’t get enough of. While, the previously mentioned Aone Beats-produced, Different. Has some bars such as, “Three decades, hitting the fourth. A fifth of Smirnoff pour for n***as caught in the cross. Lost in thought, my son’s be my moral support.” That lets you know how much, AZ, still acknowledges the struggle he had to go through to get to his legendary status in Hip-Hop. His rapping getting more better and mature over time. Just like a fine wine.
As we get to the midway point of the album. We get yet another standout. That is easily one of the best tracks on the album, if not the best on it. With the very grimey and cinematic The Alchemist-produced, Ritual. That is a very star-studded affair, seeing Conway the Machine and Lil Wayne. Going virtually toe-to-toe and bar-for-bar with, AZ. That sounds like a straight up cypher in a Twilight Zone. With Wayne continuing his recent resurgence that has him once again sounding like Mixtape-era Weezy. His renewed hunger and energy, really adding even more to such a stellar track. That then segues into the very soulful drums backed Buckwild-produced, Blow That S***. Which features, Dave East. East providing both a guest verse. As well as the hook. Before we go into the Bink!-produced, Bulletproof. A very drums infused production. That sounds very refined compared to production on the rest of the album. With bars like, “The power of refinement, the hours align with. The synergy we design to our environment. Never ominous, pure. Went from the curse to the cure. It’s the worst that made us mature.” AZ, once again provides the listener(s) with game about how his mistakes helped him to grow and mature. Not only when he was in the streets. But throughout the years and decades in music as well.
To use a sports reference. As we enter the championship rounds of what would be a boxing match. The album continues to get better. Just as it should. Starting with the boom-bap infused sounds of the Pete Rock-produced and featured, Check Me Out. Arguably the best track on the album. It finds, AZ, rapping his very elegant smooth and intelligent rhymes. Such as, “This is grown man music mixed with ghetto allure.” Which is actually probably one of the best ways you can describe all of, Doe or Die II. As a whole album, if you could. In one or two sentences. The energy that both, AZ and Rock with his production. Down to his scratches. One of the few, if any of the tracks. That on this new album, match AZ’s energy from the original, Doe or Die. The soulful sounds continue on the Heatmakerz-produced, Time to Answer. Before going into the 12th round with the Czarface-produced, Found My Niche. That is the only other track on the album, which really sounds like it could have been on the original, Doe or Die. The soulful backdrop perfect for the knowledgeable OG bars like, “Still straight, whole body laced with crazy shine. Then my Ace got shot in the face, that made me rhyme. Money dryin’ up in the streets, I took a seat. Stop ridin’ dirty in jeeps and rode beats. Reality rap, sh*t sick. I found a niche. ’94, came with, Life’s a B**ch.” That, AZ, spits on the track. Then in some ways almost plays like a reintroduction and prequel. To, AZ’s introduction to the Hip-Hop masses on the classic Nas track.
The album ends with the very feel-good Rockwilder-produced, What’s Good featuring T-Pain. An inspiring victory lap of sorts record. That has, AZ, flaunting his success and growth as one of the top emcees and the rugged street life. He had to maneuver to get to where he is. That he knows some are still faking about like they are still livin’ in. But he can see through their lies. The perfect way to end such a superb album. That lets people know. Still after nearly 30 years in Hip-Hop. AZ, still has the raw talent of emceeing. That is true to the core essence of Hip-Hop and never goes out of style. While also proving that he can also still deliver some of the most cohesive and classic album’s in Hip-Hop. I wouldn’t be surprised to see, Doe or Die II. Land on many year-end lists. For the best Hip-Hop album’s of the year too.