8Ball and MJG’s most probable chance at pop stardom came in early 2007 with “Relax and Take Notes,” a barreling, ferocious, glorious track with Project Pat on mean-mugging guest-verse duty. The album that spawned that single, Ridin’ High, was received apathetically, but these growling Memphis rappers deploy their no-nonsense lucidness to persistently winning results on their latest offering, Ten Toes Down.
The album plays like an auditory parade of hip-hop monarchy: Guests T.I., Bun B, Slim Thug, and Young Dro all douse their verses in swaggering panache, and that energy seldom relents. On “I Don’t Give a Fuck,” Bun’s flow lumbers a bit, but 8Ball and MJG sink effortlessly into David Banner’s clammy funk beat, and the crawling keyboards on “Bring It Back” are just as complementary. The title track makes use of neck-snapping drums and sinister synth tones that evoke Three 6 Mafia, while “We Come From” is a delightful burst of country-boy pride. 8Ball and MJG don’t eschew stereotypes—they submit to them, and ecstatically so, with rhymes about fried chicken and watermelon.
But these are serious men with serious contemplative sides, which they demonstrate on “Life Goes On,” a weary recognition of urban life’s pitfalls. And the burbling, organ-enhanced “Truth Be Told” recalls the cool introspection of UGK. Mesmeric as they are, such dashes of melancholy make the fun stuff all the more rewarding. On “Grinding,” Nard & B redeem their leaden contributions to T.I.‘s Paper Trail with a track that is a pure, unbridled triumph; the synths glide instead of groan, and 8Ball and MJG’s gruff authority upstages Tip’s well-worn showiness. Few things are sweeter.