Album: The Greatest Story Never Told
Producer: Just Blaze, Jay-Z, Kanye West, et al.
Label: Suburban Noize
Release: February 15, 2011
Rating: 7.0 RockRolls
Following a storied career of mixtapes and street albums, The Greatest Story Never Told was the much anticipated debut album for Saigon nearly five years ago. After a number of setbacks as a result of marketing issues and pending release from his former label, Saigon was finally able to complete and release the album, but without the momentum he had collected in the past. However, die hard fans and rap aficionados point to this release as being a major turning point in Brian Daniel Carenard's musical career as well as an important addition to the grand collective of rap music. And after six years of frustration and anticipation, we are all curious to hear what Sai-Gitty has to say.
If you aren't familiar with the artists work, there is something you need to know: Saigon is quite possibly the most socially conscious rapper of the last decade. If you came to listen to a gangster rap album glorifying alcoholism, drug use, street violence, and wearing jail time as a badge of honor, then you can stop reading right now. That's not to say that these motifs aren't present in Saigon's work, but they certainly are never portrayed in a positive light. What Saigon has created with The Greatest Story Never Told is a well-crafted commentary on the issues facing the African-American community without dramatizing or cheapening the serious issues at hand.
The album opens and closes on a pair of prison-related vignettes which frame the overall message of the album, much like how prison time framed Saigon's adolescent life and continues to direct the lives of his friends and colleagues. Saigon's focus is more on the dreams and needs of those incarcerated—humanizing those who we might dismiss as just "criminals"—, and of those who find themselves living the struggle of urban America.
The albums titular song, "The Greatest Story Never Told," is a challenge to the rap community to break the stereotypes of the black community and the pervasive misconceptions of rappers and their music highlighting black on black crime. Saigon calls on his colleagues to spit their game without being lame. My rhyme, not his; Sai-gitty is far more skillful at his craft than this reviewer.
We don’t drive a hard bargain.
All we want back is crack, some more gats
And some more of that bullshit rap.
The crime rhyme is still black on black.
We need a leader like me to get us back on track.
When y’all make them dis records do you know what you’re doing to black community?
Market and promote the fact that we lack unity.
Them white people look at you and laugh.
You look like a porch monkey boy dancing for cash.
Wanna get on a record and talk trash,
See him at the awards and don’t do shit but walk past
Saigon didn't reserve his progressive thinking solely for his title track. Collaborating with Marsha Ambrosius over a sample of the Carpenter's "Superstar," Sai asks young women to reflect on the pitfalls of single motherhood and the somber realization on how single parenting can have more merit than forcing a broken relationshipon the Kanye West produced "It's Alright."
To all the ladies having babies on they own
These niggas aint shit. For real, yo. You better off alone.
If he aint smart enough to know why he should stay
Then what could he possibly teach your seed anyway?
Saigon invites the always fresh and spectacular Faith Evans on the R&B and Gospel-tuned "Clap" which speaks to local communities to fight cultural homogenization, institutions which preserve the status quo rather than attempt rehabilitation, and for residents to invest in themselves and their futures. A catchy vocal chorus and pointed, relevant rap lyrics segue into the sharp, condemning "Preacher" warning the god-fearing and trusting of wolves in sheep's clothing, preying on the faithful to fulfill their secular desires.
The cameos and guest producers on this album are too numerous to name in total. Q-Tip and Fatman Scoop are featured on the album's first full record, "The Invitation," and Jay-Z lends his talent with the Swizz Beatz collaboration on "Come On Baby." That's not to mention Lee Fields, Rahee DeVaughn, Layzie Bone, Bun B and numerous other artists, producers, and executive producers who all helped shape Saigon's vision into the work that was finally set free. And despite all the extra chefs stirring the broth, a significant portion of the album feature just Saigon and Just Blaze doing what they do best, producing and making solid music.
The album is long at 79 minutes, a marathon by most people's standards, but after a long stretch of captivity with Atlantic mimicking his own time locked up, it's no wonder Saigon worked extra songs into his final, exonerated release. Socially aware, harshly critical, and never pretentious, Saigon delivers what is easily his strongest recording to date. We hope that Saigon's next story won't take another half-decade to materialize.