"It's an explanation of me," I-20 says of his album. "I speak through my music. I'm coming from leftfield and I've got a good, wide range of music. I'm going to put the exclamation point on Southern hip-hop music. No one is doing what I'm doing musically, lyrically. OutKast and Scarface came before me, but I'm bringing a defining moment in Southern hip-hop history with my album."
Fans of Ludacris' fun-filled music should be prepared for a more serious approach from I-20, who focuses his street-based raps on emotional tales of love, life and death. "I'm more in your face," I-20 says of his style compared to Ludacris'. "I represent the ?Disturbed' in ?Disturbing Tha Peace.' I represent a different side, the bleak reality of what's going right and what's going wrong in America. Regardless, I'm going to give it to you honest."
I-20 delivers a straightforward discussion of sex on "Slow F***in'," an erotic back-and-forth tag-team rap display between I-20 and fellow DTP member Shawnna. Produced by Craig Love, the steamy selection highlights the benefits of making loving last, while I-20 showcases his sly rhymes. "Do I make you horny, baby?" he coyly asks Shawnna, playing off the famous line from Austin Powers.
Getting more serious, I-20 highlights his storytelling abilities on the gripping "The Night I Died." Here, I-20 made up a chain of events that leads to his own death and assembled them into one of the most chilling yet entertaining lyrical episodes ever experienced on record. Over a mournful beat from Earthtone III (OutKast, others), I-20 establishes himself as a premier hip-hop storyteller.
But it is "I Pray For America" that may be the strongest "Self Explanatory" song. Over a deliberate and soulful beat, I-20 explains how America is bound to pay the price for the injustices it practices around the world.
"I wrote it because I see life for what it is," I-20 says. "Now don't get it twisted. I love America, but we're a hustle country. I wanted to let people know that I'm aware of what we're doing. We're a bully. America realizes it's the only superpower left."
Such powerful, thought-provoking lines as "You got to pay to go to school, but it's free to go to prison," make "I Pray For America" a song that will touch every American.
Of course, "Self Explanatory" as a whole will have the same impact. I-20's buzz was so loud when he was going into record his album that he was approached by a number of top-tier producers who wanted to work with this A-Town artist. Shondrae (Ludacris, Disturbing Tha Peace), Kanye West (Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel, dead prez), Salaam Remi (Nas, the Fugees) and Jook (Disturbing Tha Peace) are among the A-List producers whose work appears on "Self Explanatory."
Working with such prominent artists was a dream of I-20, who was born and raised in Decatur. At 12, he fell in love with EPMD's "Strictly Business" album and viewed the seminal hip-hop pair as the ultimate rap duo. Around this time, one of his cousins wrote a rap, which led to I-20 scripting his own lyrics. After that, I-20 was hooked.
Amazed by the music and words of EPMD, Nas, Kool G Rap and others, I-20 decided to focus on rap. At first, he wasn't concerned about making songs. It was all about rhyming.
But once his friend Ludacris and his business partner Chaka Zulu taught I-20 about music making, I-20's outlook changed from just wanting to rhyme to wanting to make a commercial impact with his work. "Ludacris and Chaka Zulu taught me how to make songs," I-20 says. "'Cris has such a natural and thorough understanding of the business that it's amazing."
The lessons I-20 learned from Ludacris and Chaka Zulu certainly paid off. Ludacris put his right-hand rhyme man on several of the songs from his albums, which have sold more than 6 million copies collectively. And, with Shawnna, Fate Wilson, Titty Boy, Jay Cee and Ludacris, I-20 is an integral part of the respected DTP rhyme family.
Now, with "Self Explanatory," I-20 is ready to make himself one of hip-hop's most important acts, someone who is willing to share his feelings with his legions of fans.
"It's important to get 100 percent of myself across on my solo stuff," I-20 says.
No wonder it's "Self Explanatory."