Ghetto Heaven Vol. 1 is spectacularly late. Originally slated for a July 4th release, Cam’ron’s first mixtape in nearly a year and a half opens with a peanut gallery of voicemail grievances bemoaning the lack of new material from the Harlem rapper. The messages complain about being “tired of listening to “soft ass rap…I woke up crying the other day for no damn reason” and “more n*ggas out here wearing skirts than b*tches” (slightly ironic, given Cam’ron’s pink jacket-wearing and Range Rover-driving past). The only voicemail that Cam actually takes the time to answer is from Halle Berry’s assistant Denise, who turns out to be yet another dude yelling at him about how the tape better come out October 1st, or else. Despite the three-month delay, impostor-Denise is probably pleased because Ghetto Heaven Vol. 1 did end up dropping by the new deadline—and it’s a strong indication of Cam’ron’s signature sound, for better or for worse.
Ghetto Heaven Vol. 1 is messy, but not necessarily the mid-00s style of messy that gives Cam’ron mixtapes their classic charm. Gone are the days of redlined Hitmakerz beats and DJ Kay Slay yelling over the beginning, middle, and end of every track; instead, there are samples from the Lion King, the Golden Girls theme, and Cults, to name the more colorful choices. Cam’ron is no stranger to interesting samples (he’s rapped over Carmina Burana and Cyndi Lauper on the same album), and these borderline-goofy selections are just a different method of challenging the expectations of his audience. It’s doubtful that a Golden Girls sample is what that angry voicemail caller had in mind as an alternative to “soft ass rap,” but Cam’ron’s ability to juggle unconventional samples with gritty verses is part of what propels him beyond the herd of mediocre New York rappers. What’s stuck around from the idealized Cam’ron of a decade past, thankfully, is his outstanding gift for wordplay. Lines like “still moving weight, I-95/ a I-80 hoe, 95 pies/ fuck a 9 to 5, air max ’95/ watch flew in from Germany, that’s how time flies” from “Think You Need Love” indicate his often (poorly) imitated mastery of internal rhyme, while “ten hoes/ three O’s/ two homies and an orchestra” from “Dat All” bears the classic patterning of his sparse but sharp delivery. There are few rappers who command attention as effectively as Cam’ron does while using so few syllables. His bars are short, lethal, and memorable, which makes them perfect for Tweeting: likely another reason his popularity has endured despite his thinning output.
His sense of humor hasn’t gone anywhere either, and so we get hilarious lines like “the Lenox Ave Forrest Gump, I’m on a long run” and “not Jamaican but I gave her my jerk sauce.” In the eternal quest to stay relevant, Ghetto Heaven Vol. 1 has plenty of bits about social media as well: there’s a track called “Instagram Catfish,” and “I’m an OG/ emoji mad face” might best encapsulate the fusion of old Cam’ron with 2013. You’ve probably already seen Tweets quoting Tiff the Gift’s “Instagram Skit,” where she cusses a girl out for “liking [her] mans pics on Instagram.” Despite his absence on the track, it’s impossible not to imagine him cracking up in the studio at this scenario. Recorded telephone conversations are another classic instrument in Cam’ron’s rap toolbox, an additional display of his talent for adaptation. Not only is Ghetto Heaven Vol. 1 cognizant of the Internet-addled, shifting rap landscape, but it successfully embraces it as well.
Cam’ron’s Ghetto Heaven Volume 1 is out now. Download via DatPiff.