As recent breakups go, G-Side’s didn’t register with the same magnitude as that of the Mars Volta or Das Racist, but the tributes their split did garner were well earned. Though the Huntsville, Ala., rap duo’s musical boldness pulled together various corners of the internet– The ONE… COHESIVE’s “How Far” sampled Beach House’s “10 Mile Stereo”, while iSLAND’s “Gettin It” sliced up Tame Impala’s winding “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?”– ST 2 Lettaz and Yung Clova always had their feet cemented in the spongy, candy-coated stylings of early 8Ball & MJG and other Southern luminaries. It was an aesthetic that, if not exclusively theirs, no one else did better, and it provided the foundation of five satisfying (if commercially ineffectual) albums in barely four years, from 2007’s Sumthin 2 Hate to 2011’s iSLAND.
While Clova, as the head of Athens, Ala.-based collective Lambo Music, has continued to release new material since he and ST officially parted ways, the latter has worked faster. Less than a week after the breakup came his debut EP, R.E.B.E.L., which proved to be the most sonically daring release ST’d been involved in yet. Sampling the Beastie Boys, Bone Thugs, Empire of the Sun, and Skrillex, much of it was as kinetic as any of the party-rap by his Huntsville pal Jackie Chain (albeit in a much different way). Not only did it suggest ST would be just fine without his former partner, its best moments justified G-Side’s dissolution in that it exposed a singular vision that might never have been achieved by the pair as, well, a pair.
Originally planned to be G-Side’s sixth LP, The G… The Growth & Development wound up as ST’s full-length solo debut. It marks the first release of the 27-year-old’s career that doesn’t have much in the way of continuity. Three tracks approximate pure East Coast classicism– “Trillmatic”’s first half, for example, could hardly be more reminiscent of that Nas album’s “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in Da Park)”– and two more aim for the club nearly as overtly as G-Side’s “College Chicks” did in 2009. Of course, those make for two very distant poles, but given that ST has written both with unabashed hubris and of everyday struggles whose details wouldn’t sound out of place on some meditative Rhymesayers single, we know the guy has range. And everything on The G falls within that range.
Besides those from the well-intentioned but occasionally goofy “Not a Luv Song”, these verses don’t show any sides of ST we haven’t seen before. Fortunately, he has no problems finding inventive ways to tread his usual topics. Here’s a note on his dope-dealing history from “Green Light District”: “Hit that bitch with P’s and O’s/ She flip them letters like Vanna White.” On “Flashlight”, ST steps back for a survey of the Big Picture, growing as pensive as ever in the process: “What good is having a voice if you only talk about yourself?/ What good is having a choice if you only choose to hurt somebody else?” Later on that same track, he looks at his surroundings and concludes, “This ain’t livin’, that’s why I’m livid.” Nothing worldview-shaking or stunningly pithy, maybe, but as per always, ST consistently gets the job done here.
A few obstacles prevent The G from reaching a serious peak or sustaining any real hot streak: some elements that were surely appended to give the album a more expansive feel– GMane’s interstitial musings, the longish in- and outros, the instrumental “Lighthouse”– account for too much of the album’s 42-minute duration. (Those GMane interludes don’t serve the same narrative purpose as, say, Kendrick’s mom’s do on good kid, m.A.A.d city.) It’s also frustrating that ST insists on working with relative unknowns instead of collaborating with a heavyweight who might help draw him somewhere near the limelight of rap in a grand sense; Grilly and Bentley might sound a little like Big K.R.I.T. and a more restrained Gunplay, respectively, but they lack the intangibles those guys would bring if they were actually here. Barring the EP/pre-album teaser Prelude… To The G, The Growth & Development might be the feeblest release of ST’s career so far. It’s never bad, but it could have been more streamlined, and we should be hearing a little more ambition from a guy who, as he tells us on “Flashlight”, is hoping to be a star at some point.