The hustle. It’s as important to hip-hop as anything else is to the culture. Even in some of it’s more elementary beginnings the hustle and finding a way to survive the struggle has been a mainstay topic for our MC’s. The environment calls for it though. Hip-Hop is meant to be a form of self-reflection and the simple fact of the matter is that most rappers come from the hood. Call it a product of the environment.
The way hustling is portrayed can vary from artist to artist though. Some go for a more reflective vibe, some speak as if they are still currently active and will let you know that, some will tell you not to hustle at all based on their past encounters. That’s the beauty of music, it can be presented in so many ways even though the base of the idea is the same.
One of the latest Mississippians to give us a view of what this lifestyle is like is someone with a name fit for the topic, Mike Hu$tle. The Jackson native give us a 13-track album full of tunes fit for the daily grind the streets can present. Titled “Natural Born Hustler” it is evident from those words alone the perspective in which Mike is ready to approach the music with. The aura of an O.G. who has plenty of knowledge to share is what can be expected before checking it out.
When asked about the mindframe he was in during the creation Mike Hu$tle was straightforward in letting it be known his goal. “Going into creating NBH I wanted to speak on my life really. Just wanted to give people a chance to get to know me.” To accomplish this goal he gets straight into setting the tone with a familiar voice being the first one you hear on the project. “Nobody has been around long enough to take full advantage of what’s in front of them, so for me as an O.G. all I have to do is stay alive basically.” These words from Bun B lead off as the artist brings his bars on “Trillmatic”.
As an introductory track “Trillmatic” paints a very strong picture of some of the low points of the game and how to avoid them. It’s almost as if it is a cautionary manual for anyone considering jumping off the porch and into the drug trade. From the bat Mike Hu$tle shows he isn’t the average local corner boy, but instead someone who has adapted to the hustle smartly. “Since I’m a natural born hustler point me to the connect. As a youngin the O.G.’s had taught me what to expect. Confidential informants, illegal search with no warrants, plus them jump out boys will plot to keep us street hustlers dormant.” This level of awareness being shown to the pitfalls that come along with hustling make Trillmatic a perfect fit for an intro on this project. It allows for us to understand that Hu$tle isn’t someone who is in the game just for the look and that he is indeed true to it. The elements from the aforementioned Bun B and also Pimp C help to make the track more impactful, bringing more clarity to his focal points within the song.
It is also made clear though that while Mike Hu$tle is cautious and attentive he is still able to enjoy the fruits of his labor. The following tracks “Dope Game” and “Gusto” (which features Torch A-1) allow some time for the flash to come out. Both tracks are much more celebratory in nature than the intro, offering some balance that is needed to make things not veer too far in any certain direction.
Tracks 4 and 5 represent two of the strongest tracks on Natural Born Hustler in my opinion. “What It Is” features some hazy production that allows for some of the better flows on the project. A catchy hook helps to round things out. “Hustle Pays” offers a change of pace compared to the previous few tracks. For this one Mike calls on Hollywood Luck and Mal Walker for a song that I would consider the standout of the entire tape. It goes without saying that Luck has a penchant for laying down strong melodic hooks and this one is no different. Mike lays down some strong bars to match and Mal comes through with a nice feature verse. If there was one track I would advise everyone to check out on here it would be Hustle Pays without question.
Though the hustle never stops, it does a take a brief intermission on “Slow Tongue”. This is the first track on the album that is more catered towards the ladies. On it he speaks about a particular muse who happens to have some certain skills in the bedroom. Songs about sex can often be a bit awkward and sound out of place for certain rappers with more street oriented content but here Hu$tle handles the job well. A strong sample job on the production based off Millie Jackson’s song of the same name helps bolster the record.
“You Know What I Do” follows and offers a look at what a relationship can be like for someone in love with a true hustler. Rico Sivad is on hook duty here, providing an interpolation of Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel”. Mike gives some lyrics that are vivid enough to believe he is speaking from a personal experience here. He describes how the race to get to the money can pull him away from his significant other and how he needs someone who is willing to make the sacrifice necessary. This could potentially be a “crossover” record for him offering a sound still rooted in his go-getter mentality but in more digestible form for the masses.
Keeping with the trend of records that have a bit of a softer vibe, next up is “Don’t Know Love” featuring Cool. This one gives the vibe of someone who has tried to be in a productive relationship but found out it wasn’t for them. Similar to “You Know What I Do” I can see this one reaching more ears than some of his other records. The good choice in production and sampling rings true again with a flip of Lucy Pearl’s “Dance Tonight” driving the sound.
The overall vibe switches back to that with which the album is based on with Mike’s “natural born” ability shining through. Tracks like “Call Me Hustle” and “I Smoke Blunts” are both records giving more of the patented hard sound and O.G. knowledge you can grow accustomed to listening to Mike Hu$tle. “I dont show no love or hate I walk that line in-between it. These boys ain’t got no heart a sucka nigga I can’t be it.” Lines like this give you the overall vibe of “Call Me Hustle” while “I Smoke Blunts” offer a more mellow vibe for all of the Mary Jane connoisseurs to vibe to.
We begin to approach the latter portion of the album on a serious note with “Hustler’s Prayer” coming next in line. This is another track with the focus being placed on the downfalls of the lifestyle. In a manner that is almost therapeutic to listen to Mike Hu$tle addresses some of the losses he has had to endure and how manages to navigate through them. While I’m not sure it would grab every listener, this was one of my favorites of the set.
Another heavy hitter out of Jackson, Mr. Dolla Black, makes a guest appearance on the album’s next record “All We Know”. Dolla provides the hook in his trademark baritone singing voice adding a level of soul for which Mike Hu$tle can come behind and do what he does best. While it’s not the best collaboration on the project this one did work out for the better as well.
We arrive at Natural Born Hustler’s end with “All White”. The record is a prime summary of the tape as a whole making it a decent choice as a closer. It revolves around his life and a bit of the guilt he feels. The theme of wearing all white is one he uses to describe his sometimes flashy lifestyle, the attire he wants to wear when his time for a funeral comes and the color in which heaven represents. One of if not the best concepts on the project.
After listening extensively to “Natural Born Hustler” the thing that strikes me as a key quality is Mike Hu$tle’s ability to make you believe him. Though I would doubt he is lying about his lifestyle, with some rappers no matter how heavily they were in the streets it’s hard to believe what they say on wax. This is not the case with Mike and I love that. Though he is quick to let you know what he is about and how he is on a race to the paper, it is never far-fetched in how he conveys it. He does have some moments where he speaks on balling out, but he isn’t driving 45 different cars, having sex with 100 women a day and selling 100 bricks a week. For every positive thing he says about the game he is sure to let you know it is not all good by any means as well. The line between being credible and running away with the details is a fine one, but Mike Hu$tle does a good job towing it.
On the other hand his ability to hustle does end up being beneficial to the tape while also hurting it a bit. Though the project is still very enjoyable, I would have loved to hear him take a few chances to delve into some more diverse subject matters on one or two more songs. He is a capable rapper so things like story telling, more punchlines and covering more topics would have took the tape from great to flawless if you ask me. I will also admit though that his ear for production is top notch and helps to make a lot of these shortcomings less problematic.
To sum it up, “Natural Born Hustler” is a project made just for that type of person but it is also one that can be enjoyed by the casual hip-hop fan. It would definitely fall under the “trap music” umbrella but the way Mike Hu$tle approaches his music makes it much more introspective and intelligent in it’s approach than the average rapper in that lane. When it comes to albums that are fit for the grind the streets can provide you would be hard-pressed to find a much better one out of Mississippi in the year 2017.
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