Frequently referred to as “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper,” Scarface has thrived on an inability to fully crack the mainstream, inhabiting the role of the pure technical craftsman accessible only to connoisseurs of the genre. Despite this label, however, there’s nothing overly complicated about the Houston rapper: He hits all the expected marks, from gritty street narratives that stray inexplicably between amoral and teary-eyed, to big-name guest appearances and endless bluster. Little-to-no attention is paid to defying convention. In fact, the thing that makes Scarface so continuously viable is a word not often heard in hip-hop: reliability, a consistent quality that Emeritus, his ninth studio album, continues to perpetuate.
Scarface’s style is impressively workmanlike, free of flash, duly focused on cutting jibes and sly turns of phrase. The production seems like almost an afterthought and, aside from the guest appearances, his music is largely timeless, focused less on cutting-edge beats than a strong, intelligent flow. It’s this imperviousness to trends that has kept Scarface alive for so long in a genre known for eating its young. He’s been making records since 1991, even longer if you count his time with the Geto Boys, and rumor has it that Emeritus will be his last (at least under his current moniker). There are hints of this in the title and elsewhere, but beyond that, the album doesn’t feel like much of a farewell; Kingdom Come this is not.
Emeritus begins with “Intro,” a bizarre, surprisingly relaxed screed that wanders aimlessly for four minutes, addressing the “roaches and rats” that plague the rapper’s life and making very little sense. The backing is a bland MIDI dirge, spiked with military drums, which sound like they’re sampled from a Super Nintendo RPG. But once this business is settled, Scarface gets down to the more important matter of laying down nearly an hour’s worth of quietly competent tracks.
Lil Wayne makes an appearance, as does Slim Thug, Bilal and Bun-B, but the overall feeling is subdued, like a sparsely attended party. Scarface seems content to slyly intimate his departure and inflate his own status, noting at one point that “I came up on NWA/Ya’ll came up on me.” If this is truly the end for Scarface then Emeritus is a backdoor exit, an unassuming, professional album that quietly gets the job done.