Puff Daddy & the Family No Way Out Puff Daddy/Arista 78612 73012 2

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The Independent Culture
Subtlety has never exactly been a large part of the rap armoury, but Sean "Puffy" Combs, aka Puff Daddy, plumbs new depths with the intro to No Way Out, which features his somewhat myopic musings on the death of his chum The Notorious BIG - "Damn! I woulda never thought it woulda been like this" - over a celestial choir, concluding with a prayer to protect him from his enemies, "for they know not what they do". Tasteful or what?

The entire album is suffused with the dead rapper's presence, both directly - Biggie raps on four tracks - and as the focus of an extended bout of public mourning which spans a range of responses from grief to revenge. Combs, better known as producer of swingbeat acts such as Mary J Blige and Jodeci, lacks the vocal personality to be a great rapper, and his reliance on over-familiar tunes suggests a dearth of original musical ideas (besides the hit revision of "Every Breath You Take", the album includes tracks based on such big, dumb tunes as "Let's Dance" and "Don't Stop The Music", and ends with a retitled update of "The Message"). It's par for the course if you want to sell rap to a pop audience, but the adaptations could hardly be less imaginative.

What is most perplexing about No Way Out, though, is how Puff Daddy and his cronies, despite their obvious need for what therapists term "closure", still don't appear to have made the fairly basic link between their continued celebration of gangsta violence and the death of their friend. One minute Combs is professing self-righteous Christian pieties; the next he's displaying the usual dumb, death-fixated bravado, asking "What you gonna do when it's your turn to go?" as gunshots ring out. He's not the only guilty party - the most interesting track here, "I Love You Baby", uses Yma Sumac's "Xtabay" theme to develop an attractive air of wistful languor, only for another guest rapper, one Black Rob, to start ranting on about guns again, and what was enticingly exotic is suddenly mundane again.