By Andrew Ross

It looked like another mindless, uninspired cash-grab–er, gangsta rap album–and the first few tracks, “Feel my Pain,” “Bang Bang Boom” and “Respect my Gangsta,” only served to confirm that impression. By the time I got to the halfway track, “I’m A Ryder,” I was already starting to figure out another way to say “this is a mindless, uninspired gangsta rap album.”

Then something unexpected happened. Hell and Back started showing some inspiration. Drag-On picked himself up. There was artistry where the ‘-ick’ (chick, sick, click…) and ‘-igga’ (bigga, trigga, figga…) rhymes are usually found.

I checked the CD player. It hadn’t skipped to another disc. A non-DMX Ruff Ryder was actually not sucking. (My apologies to Eve fans. No, on second thought, no apologies to Eve fans, she’s obviously not living up to her artistic potential.)

Hell and Back probably won’t go platinum, and it won’t win a lot of awards, but it does have soul. It’s just a shame that soul is all but obscured by gangsta pretense.

Hidden away near the end of the disc, “My First Child” is one of the most poignant songs I’ve heard in a long time. The first time I heard it, I was actually moved. I did not see that one coming. Seriously, this guy is labelmates with Jadakiss. Nobody would have seen that one coming.

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