Life in the Concrete Jungle hits the streets this week on B.G.'s Chopper City Records label, but to call it the Chopper City Boyz' debut isn't exactly accurate, considering the familial web of New Orleans rap that the group has been a part of for at least five years. The name now refers to two rappers, Snipe and Gar, who are the only artists left out of a group that started in late 2002 as a quartet that included the Uptown rapper V.L. Mike and B.G.'s younger brother Hakim, who had already begun to make a mark on tracks with B.G. and other Hot Boys alumni Lil Wayne and Turk. The group appeared on tracks on most of the albums and mix tapes that B.G. dropped during that time, and put out an official release in 2007, the David Banner-produced We Got This, plus Block Music, a mix tape featuring the studio skills of Carlos Stephens, part of the Beats By The Pound production team that gave many No Limit Records releases their signature militant stomp in the '90s.
Even on those two "solo" projects (which were both billed as B.G. and the Chopper City Boyz), the more renowned rapper was a prominent presence. These days, he has his hands full with a new Atlantic Records contract and a heavily anticipated upcoming release, Too Hood to be Hollywood, on that label. B.G. appears on Life in the Concrete Jungle, but surprisingly, the tracks on the album are heavy on upbeat, throbbing party anthems aimed more at the dance floor than the mean streets that were often his lyrical fodder. (They don't call him Baby Gangsta for nothing.) The lead single, "Bubblegum," is sly, sensuous and juicy, featuring the female Lady Dolla as a sexy foil, and calls to mind Lil Wayne's salacious and fluffy hit "Lollipop." Another track, "Don't Step On My White Feet," is a winking sendup of the hip-hop style mandate to keep those fancy kicks unscuffed at all costs. Even 'Maintain," the most hard-knock cut on the album, made gloomy and foreboding by dark, ominous piano, stands as more of a message to stay strong in the face of the obstacles of gangster life than a glorification of them.
The lightness of the tracks on Life in the Concrete Jungle comes at a time when the city and the group needs some levity. After V.L. Mike left the outfit following the early 2008 release of Block Music, the 32-year-old rapper, whose real name was Michael Allen, was shot to death in the middle of an April afternoon. Three months later, the seminal '90s bounce artist Terence Vine (known as Sporty T) was killed by bullets fired through the flimsy wall of his FEMA trailer. He was Gar's cousin.
Gar, who emerged as a sensitive and keen lyricist on Block Music with the moving narrative "One Day At A Time" which painted a moving portrait of a teenage single mother, struggling with drug addiction and Hurricane Katrina pointed out that in real life, crime and thuggery hardly mix with success as a creative artist.
The equilibrium reached on Life in the Concrete Jungle may actually be, though not thoroughly gangsta, more realistically "street" than a totally militant album would be. With tracks like "Bubblegum" and "White Feet," the Chopper City Boyz reveal the vibrant culture of New Orleans hip-hop " parties, fashion and flirting in the hood that exists side-by-side with the grim reality of poverty and crime. All in all, though, the Chopper City Boyz have in no way given up the streetwise, keepin'-it-real mien of their own and B.G.'s work. On the new album, bleak and violent themes give way to welcome humor and sexiness indicating, perhaps, that life in the concrete jungle is more than just the thug life.