This sure has been a long time coming. Even in an industry plagued by constant drama, push-backs, and label switching, Saigon’s delayed debut has formed quite a legacy. The MC spent a decent portion of his young life in prison, emerging with stakes in hip hop. He began building a reputation via the mix-tapes, got an assist from Mark Ronson, solidified his reputation with Warning Shots, and next thing you knew he was Just Blaze’s favorite project. That’s when The Greatest Story Never Told began its genesis. Its first single, “C’mom Baby,” and it’s big treatment remix with Jay-Z and Swizz Beatz were released in 2007.
The fact that the remix still appears on this record four years later says a thing or two about the battle it’s been through. A track that old normally gets left in the dust (see: the multitude of Detox tracks that have gotten coughed up along the way), but Saigon couldn’t exactly call up Hova for another verse, and that kind of star power is nothing to toss out for a rapper struggling to get an album released. The reputation Atlantic’s gained for screwing over artists was partially forged by Saigon. As his Blaze-produced record lingered in the doldrums, he vented openly, calling the album’s title prophetic, that Atlantic never intended to release it. Blaze quieted the waters, saying it was the fault of a sample clearance issue, but whether due to true negligence or a sting from Saigon’s words, the album never dropped.
The tale continued, of course, gradually leading to Blaze releasing the record on his own label, allowing it to finally fall into our hands. Hyped albums are guaranteed to be either a blessing or a curse. Dre’s Detox has been delayed by own hesitance: he’s the big guy with all the time in the world, panicking away. Saigon is the opposite; a hip hop head’s hero, struggling to release his vision. So long as the album was good, people were going to call it great. Well, here it is, a good album: say what you will about it.
This isn’t to say the record’s disappointing — it’s a strong MC rhyming over pre-Recovery-sound Just Blaze beats. That leaves little to gripe about. The same must be said of guests like Devin the Dude, Black Thought, Q-Tip, and (of course) Bun B. There’s even a Kanye beat. Yet, it still must be said: this doesn’t have that speaker-shattering quality of a true classic. Due to the delays, some people expected one — Saigon’s boasts about the record certainly didn’t help — but Saigon is ultimately a damn good rapper burdened with the reputation of a great one.
Take the album closer, “Too Long.” A grandiose beat is in place, perfect for the sentimental, storytelling brand of rap that guest Black Thought can sleepwalk through, but Saigon isn’t made for those cuts. He does a serviceable job, but is playing against his strengths. The Yardfather is best served by fire, such as the simple, aggressive “Bring Me Down Pt. 2” (look for “Pt. 3” with Joe Budden), or by spitting his political game. Good thing is, there are plenty of both to be found here. This is an album to treasure: Saigon, one way or another, got his album out. He refused to pander to the pop rap climate prevalent in the years the album wasted away, and a good rap album getting out is always a victory. It’s too bad it couldn’t find release on a major, but still a victory. Yet, that doesn’t make this album, as Saigon once declared it, the best record of the last 20 years. It makes it a good one.