Methinks the baller doth protest too much. Polite, gold-toothed, braided, and jovial-as-he-wants-to-be, 8ball is hardly the prototype for post-Too Short pimp rap. Or so he'd

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Hard pimps

Methinks the baller doth protest too much. Polite, gold-toothed, braided, and jovial-as-he-wants-to-be, 8ball is hardly the prototype for post-Too Short pimp rap. Or so he'd have you believe. "Every album, it's just one song," he protests. "On our first album, we had one song called 'Pimps.' The name of the album was Coming Out Hard, straight gangsta, but that was just what people picked up on. Second album we had a song called 'Break-A-Bitch College,' just one song out of a whole album of other stuff. Next album, On Top of the World, 'Space Age Pimping.' One song!"

8ball & MJG

Space Age 4 Eva (JCOR)

Granted, but when your forays into the genre are delivered with such fervency and passion, it's somewhat foreseeable that others might typecast you. This time around, on the group's first album since leaving former home Suave House Records, the pimp game is in full effect, and predictably 8ball and his partner, the lankier, more fashion-conscious MJG, keep the stroll hot. "Pimp Shit" serves as the group's statement of purpose, with MJG stepping out from the shadows to deliver a hearty ode to the game: "I didn't read about it, I was born with it," he boasts. Later, he clowns a colleague who's less proficient than he: "What you know about that money in her snatch," he inquires, "When she promised you that she was giving you the whole stack?" This is serious business, but MJG does take a moment for levity. Late in the song, MJG inverts one of hip-hop's sacred tracts, 2Pac's female-empowerment song "Keep Ya Head Up." Taking cues from Pac's wheezing, repeated-syllables delivery, MJG demurs, "It's mandatory for me to appeal to the women/Keep it real with them women/But let them tricks deal with the women."

It's no cleaner on the first single, the truly space-age funk "Pimp Hard." First 8ball flosses: "Wood wheel I be gripping in my big boy truck/Back in at the club getting this big boy sucked." But while 8ball's relaxing, MJG's maxing: "I want you up on your feet until they blister some. . . . I pimp strong until the reason's gone, until it ain't no hoe track left to sprinkle seasons on." As if that weren't enough, he takes a(nother) moment to educate his peers: "You too slow, sonny/What I'm spitting gonna make you know something/So the next time, instead of just talking, you can show something."

But don't relegate 8ball and MJG to the local jail just yet. There are hearts of gold underneath the ho popping and block locking—seriously. Says 8ball, "Me and MJG always do conscious songs. I can write those without music because I'm thinking about that all the time. I'm not thinking about the party and the perfect party record all the time, but I am thinking about the foot on my neck and trying to get that off—being able to maneuver, not just me, but my people. It ain't no physical foot. It's a mental foot that's keeping us down. I'm thinking about that all the time, so I'ma always make a song saying what I feel, what I really feel, not just about pimping no bitch. I'ma always make a conscious song."

While Space Age 4 Eva may well be their most pimptastic album, there's still proof of (spiritual) life beneath the sweat. "Thingz" is perhaps the group's most earnest track yet, detailing the travails of a misspent youth over Jazze Pha- produced organic funk. Here, 8ball proves himself the more reflective of the pair (as he did on his obese triple-album solo debut from 1998, Lost). "I remember when my chains didn't stretch so long," he laments, "Getting into shit when we should've let it pass/Where I come from, the youngsters had to grow up fast/Now, you better go to school and learn it fast." While its rapid snare assaults identify it as Southern bounce, its mellow, porch-sitting pacing proves the genre's range. The same can be said of "I Know U," the album opener, which manages to split the difference between player rap and '80s power rock. Ascending synth-bass chords bleed into one another while Skid Row guitars noodle in the background. "We all have fantasies/Every nigga wanna buy that house for mama, yeah/But life is like a roll of the dice, right/Sometimes you win, sometimes you just might lose it all."

Indeed, for pimps, they even fess to broken hearts on the lost-love paean "Alwayz"—in which MJG confesses, "When I see her, I'ma let her know how I feel about her"—and preach for the Lord on "Thank God." The mixture of good and evil isn't necessarily new, but it's the enthusiasm and sincerity of both sides that distinguish the duo from their more mundane peers. What 8ball and MJG offer is a tomorrow blend of the sacred and profane. As 8ball declares on "Buck Bounce," "Futuristic? What you need to do is catch up with us."

 
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