The Austin Chronicle

Where I Know You From

By Chase Hoffberger, May 20, 2009, 12:41pm, Earache!

College was Purple Haze. Not the herbal kind, mind you, but Cam'ron's album.

It came out my sophomore year. I first heard it in my buddy Pete’s room. “Put on number 8,” Zach said as he handed over the disc. “Down and Out.” Perfect.

“Ay yo, street mergers I legislated, the nerve I never hated. On murders, premeditated. Absurd, I hesitated. Observe, cock and spray, hit you from a block away. Drinking sake on a Suzuki, we in Osaka Bay,” all dripped over that vintage Roc-A-Fella Kanye.

For the next year-and-a-half we were the biggest Diplomat addicts in all of southeastern Connecticut. We drank Hpnotiq, told Panera Bread register workers to put our sandwiches under “Cam.” Across quads and libraries we caught each other’s attention with “Aye!” and would crash Dave Canton’s Hip-Hop in Post-Industrial America class to tell everyone it’s Cam’ron then everybody else. Zach showed up late for English class one day and snuck into the seat next to me. When I mouthed “Where you been?,” he lifted his jean leg to show the reason for his tardiness: new sneakers, purple and pink. We got phone calls the night Cam got shot from friends asking if we were okay.

Purple Haze was on the whole time, at parties and in the car. We made friends over “Get Down,” picked up girls to “More Reasons.” Once Zach told me he was going to take a nap in my room while I was in class. He was passed out on my couch when I got back, halfway through a take on “Bubble Music” loud enough to incite a Harlem shake down the hallway.

It wasn’t just us, either. Dipset was the movement. We even had a poetry-writing trump card named Taylor – so appropriately “eyes blue, five-two” – who gave us clout, helped make Cam’s uncompromisingly chauvinistic lyrics easier to turn up. She’d write birthday cards in Cam’s rhyme schemes and make mix CDs for her less familiar friends.

Killa Season came out a year-and-a-half later, but its corresponding movie came out a few weeks before. I remember watching it, or half at least. We got up when Cam spit on the kid outside the corner store, went to throw a football around. It was the beginning of the end.

Still, Zach and I set our alarms for May 16, 2006, and headed to the closest record store the day Cam’s fourth album came out. We knew it would be different than Purple Haze. As he’s proven since, Cam’s not the most collaborative artist and his inability to work with other people led to a nasty breakup with Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella.

With that connection broken, Cam turned to developing the Diplomats arsenal, and on Killa Season he employed eight different members of the Harlem label for verses. Only one track - “We Make Change” - featured the Diplomats' second greatest asset, Juelz Santana. The rest were filled with weed-carriers 40 Cal, Hell Rell, and J.R. Writer. Worse, Cam releasing the album on Diplomat/Asylum meant he couldn’t use Roc-A-Fella’s top-shelf production duo of Kanye West and Just Blaze, so beats were put together by a committee that played to Cam’s weakness, the hard-bodied and uninteresting drug dealer rather than the flashy, amicable hustler.

We tried to brainwash ourselves. For one week, Killa Season stayed in our bags as we moved across campus. We’d push songs on friends and play tracks before we went out. That Saturday our friend Philly asked what everyone else wanted to: “Can we put something good on?” Only three tracks – “Leave You Alone,” “IBS” and “White Girls” – survived the first cut.

Cam went largely AWOL shortly after. He fell out with Santana and Jim Jones, whose “Ballin’” single proved to be one of the biggest hits of 2006. He lost control of the Diplomats and moved to New Jersey.

In May of 2007 a video titled “It’s Gonna Be a Hot Summer” surfaced on YouTube. It was Cam, dressed in boxers and a wife-beater, declaring war on 50 Cent and his G-Unit crew. We made our own video shortly after – an 18-second clip called “It’s Gonna Be a Hot Beach Week” – but that was more or less the last gasp. He wasn’t heard from again until his Public Enemy #1 mixtape dropped in November 2007.

Fast forward to late 2008 and there’s a stir in Cam’s camp. He’s got plans, finally, to release a follow-up to Killa Season. All we wanted was another Purple Haze. We wanted another classic, something we could introduce to a new world of friends. But we knew it would happen when pink pigs learned to drive purple Land Rovers. Only Mike Jordan could make such a big comeback.

I’m not sure if he lived up to my expectations on Crime Pays, because I’m not sure I had any. All I know is that he sounds tired on “Silky [No Homo]” and “My Job,” the album’s two best tracks. Other than that, it’s too many choral and orchestral instrumentals. There’s too much on coke (“Get It In Ohio”) and not enough on girls, which always brought out the best in Cam’s charisma. At 23 tracks, it’s too long to be so redundant.

Sad that the piece of this chapter I’ll remember most is the first three seconds of ninth track “Who.” With little focus and even less of a care, Cam starts: “Remember, y’all asked for this. I didn’t.”

Sorry I asked.

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