For the casual observer, Cam’ron’s career has been more about his bizarre, often hilarious extracurricular activities—the endless feuds and legal problems, his efforts to “bring back” pink, a self-proposed To Catch a Predator spin-off DVD—than the albums appearing in between. This has all paid off as distraction from material that, if not unsatisfying, has not risen above inconsistent. True to form, to celebrate the release of Crime Pays, Cam’ron has cut ties with one former Diplomats comrade (Jim Jones), dueled with another (Juelz Santana) about their respective addictions (purple drank vs. Percocet), talked up his own version of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and filmed a handsome pile of videos—a flurry of activity which belies the fact that, forgetting the excess filler, he’s also put out a pretty solid album.
But oh, the filler. Complemented by long skits and pointless, painful boast tracks like “Bottom of the Pussy,” the album tops out at a very loose 70 minutes. Some of this is perversely entertaining, at least on first listen, like the uncomfortably deadpan phone argument of “Grease,” on which Cam continues his bizarrely unhinged jester stance by threatening, “I’ll take a shit in your backseat.” But all this ungainly waste is disruptive, isolating the album’s great tracks amid repeated digressive missteps. A good pruning should have cut out a lot of this mess.
Thankfully, production from relative unknowns Skitzo and Araabmuzik provides Crime Pays with focus and a strong spine. Tracks like the baroque, surprisingly weird “One” (with its dark, chanted undertones and mechanically tinged beat) and “Spend the Night” (with its buoyant, cresting synth line) elevate the otherwise dull material. This strong backing and a sense of pervasive weirdness, pushed forward by Cam’ron’s often off-kilter rhymes, help to create a sense of balance. “Cookies and Apple Juice” mixes the filthy and the infantile, typifying an album whose strange humor makes even rote topics seem somewhat fresh.
Yet like his maniacal dedication to the “Stop Snitching” campaign, Cam’ron’s material often verges on disturbingly amoral. A kind of distillation of the state of hip-hop as a whole, he presents situations that are amusing but morally questionable, like the borderline misogynistic “You Know What’s Up,” with its bizarrely singsong “This bitch ain’t nothing but a filthy slut” hook. The song makes a limp attempt at balance with female perspective by Sky-Lyn, but it comes off as equally offensive, a mirrored confirmation that basically affirms the hook through its forceful, blatant sexuality. This kind of icky treatment of women is hardly specific here, but the same bizarrely unsettling qualities that cause Cam’ron to be so diverting also make his sexism slightly more disconcerting.
Cam’ron makes the requisite amends with the socially conscious, surprisingly resonant “My Job,” which hits a chord, showing what he might be capable of if not so fixated on impishly stirring up trouble. At the same time, this material is so intermittently successful because the rapper is as much of a clown as he is an MC, a duality which assures that his albums will always be tinged with the bittersweet fruits of this twisted sensibility.