Rapper Big Pooh begins Dirty Pretty Things, his first solo album in years, with the line, “The world is on my shoulder.” Here’s betting that on the other shoulder rests an Earth-sized chip that has plenty to do with the Pooh’s obvious estrangement from his former Little Brother mates Phonte and 9th Wonder, who’ve reconciled and continue to collaborate through music and tours without him. “Got a new pot brewin’/ plans I’m pursuin’/ the party don’t stop cuz this empire is ruined,” Pooh concludes during “End of an Empire.” Well, that’s that.
So, on with Dirty Pretty Things: Pooh doesn’t party as much as he used to, but Durham vocalist Darien Brockington returns from his spiritual hiatus on the penetrating “Soul Music.” Here Pooh finally delivers the flared-up, assured verses otherwise missing. Here and on “Free” are as close as we get to the fun Pooh used to have and that he might have here, if he weren’t as consumed with breakups and uncertainty. Pooh’s “Around the World” take on Jay-Z’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” only holds the party down until the trifling love shows up for “5.13.11,” ending the romp. On “Real Love”, the mood again takes a serious turn when Pooh articulates his love for his incarcerated older brother. Pooh’s personal life is bigger than his hip-hop troubles, and that should help him get through this rough patch.
Over the years, Pooh fine-tuned his rap by traipsing over many of his beatmaker’s best offerings; unless these foundations are as absorbent and soulful as they are on DJ Kahlil’s “Make It Thru” and Focus’ “Right With You,” Pooh’s footprints deserve to go uncelebrated, which happens on generic sinkers like “Money Getter” and another moper, “Legendary Lullaby.” Pooh’s previous full-length projects, Fat Boy Fresh and The Delightful Bars, captured merciless moxie. Once Pooh’s post-LB sulking ends, he might give us the real Dirty Pretty Thingsfull of the cold-blooded raps to match the horrific murder scene depicted on the the album’s cover art.