Saigon – The Greatest Story Never Told [Review]

“Patience is a virtue”… That must have been an enduring statement in Saigon’s mind throughout the process and years leading up to the release of his debut album The Greatest Story Never Told. Looking back on it it’s clear why Saigon decided on that album title, as was the case back in 2007 when Atlantic Records shelved the Brownsville native’s introductory opus. But those following Saigon’s career knew this release had to happen and was going to regardless of Atlantic’s involvement. After four years of turmoil, which included an angry blog posting, retirement claim, and release from Atlantic Records, the greatest story will finally told for all to hear… or at least those that stuck around to hear it.

1. Station Identification (Intro)
Featuring Fatman Scoop; Produced by Just Blaze
Things start off with Justin Smith p/k/a Just Blaze visiting Brian Carenard p/k/a Saigon during his prison stint presenting him with the gift of an alarm clock. Following short snippets of past Saigon songs, we’re welcomed to Just Blaze Radio (WFKR) by Fatman Scoop who acts as station DJ setting the theme for the album, which plays out as a radio show (see J Dilla’s Jay Stay Paid).

2. The Invitation
Featuring Q-Tip & Fatman Scoop; Produced by Just Blaze
For those not familiar with Saigon from previous works like Warning Shots and All In A Day’s Work or appearances on HBO’s Entourage, this track brings you up to speed on the Brownsville rapper known for his passionate lyrics and flow. As an emcee that survived both the streets and the system, Sai describes just what the life entails over a hard-hitting track from Just Blaze. Q-Tip handles the hook duties naming various correctional facilities in similar manner that Tribe fans will recognize from “Jazz (We’ve Got)”.

3. Come On Baby (Remix)
Featuring Jay-Z & Swizz Beatz; Produced by Just Blaze
Listeners that didn’t require an introduction on the previous track will already recognize this track in its original form as “C’mon Baby”, released in 2007 as the first single. With a slower tempo and addition of Jay-Z as the only differences, the remix holds up just as strong if not better than the original version. With excellent production from Just Blaze reminiscent of “U Don’t Know”, Sai and Hov deliver respective verses equally matching in intensity and finesse.

“I run ringers around the fraudulent type/Come here and I’ll show you that I spit on just more than a mic … Look if I don’t hurt the nigga that play with my wealth/I’m like me on Entourage god I’m playin’ myself” – Saigon

“Matter fact I don’t give a fuck where you rate me/Record labels told me no, guess what the fuck that made me/Super rich, stupid bitches know I’m super vicious/Like standing over a wounded man with two biscuits/Lets get it clear like eucalyptus if you conflicted/My flow is like the Cuban Missile Crisis” – Jay-Z

Swizz Beatz’s hook and adlibs are a prime example of the only way he should be featured on tracks vocally. The inclusion of Jay gives this song a second wind, as listeners might have been bored hearing the original version given the album’s delay.

4. War
Produced by Scram Jones
A skit featuring Miss Info contrasting residential and urban living with the latter being described as a battlefield akin to war. Nothing much here, just setting the scene for the following track.

5. Bring Me Down Pt. 2
Produced by D.J. Corbett
Backed with a darker tone than previously heard on the first two tracks, Saigon effectively uses his lyrics to speak on the subject of perseverance and determination, something he’s familiar with not only from the delay of The Greatest Story Never Told but his stint in prison. While D.J. Corbett’s piano-driven production matches nicely with the track’s subject matter and Sai’s tone, it isn’t strong enough standing on its own with Just Blaze providing a majority of the album’s production. The track sounds like something better suited for Slaughterhouse, which would have made the recently released “Bring Me Down Pt. 3” featuring Joe Budden a better choice for the album.

6. Enemies
Produced by D. Allen
Continuing with the dark theme, “Enemies” is an interesting concept song with Saigon describing the influence and ills of the streets friend turned enemy. This track showcases Saigon’s storytelling ability, as he’s able to do so in a creative way. Although Sai’s solid lyrically on the track, his intensity doesn’t full mesh with the track as I could hear an emcee like Eminem utilizing the flow to a better degree over the production.

7. Friends
Produced by Just Blaze
I’m not sure if 50 Cent has ever considered working with Just Blaze (which he should) but I could immediately hear Curtis over this track once the song started. Just delivers a beat of building intensity with piano and horns that Saigon attacks with similar passion while continuing the topic of friends and enemies from the previous track. Along with mentioning 50 earlier, the track possesses the feel of an upbeat “Many Men (Wish Death)”. My only gripe with this track is that I wish it were longer than 1:50 coming on the heels of two average songs.

8. The Greatest Story Never Told
Produced by Just Blaze
If “Friends” was the jump-start to things getting back on track then the title track sees the album back in full motion. Just Blaze gets back to the signature sampling that dominated his productions on Beans, Bleek, and Freeway songs during the Roc-A-Fella days, beautifully chopping Leon Haywood’s “BMF Beautiful”. Saigon doesn’t let the opportunity pass by with this being his most lyrically intense track on the album, seemingly going all out with bars.

9. Clap
Featuring Faith Evans; Produced by Just Blaze
Saigon is an emcee known for his conscious and social outlook on issues plaguing the inner city so a song like “Clap” shouldn’t come as a surprise to listeners familiar with his work. An inspirational song like this works very well for Sai as he highlights the problems that need to be done away with in return for better communities and lives. The inclusion of Faith Evans makes it that much better as her uplifting vocals take the song more into the Gospel territory. Once again Just Blaze’s production shines with the track being reminiscent to “Why You Hate The Game”. Just also provides some comic relief at the end of the track as Rev. Cashis King (similar to Lord Finesse’s “Da Sermon”), which transitions well into the next track.

10. Preacher
Featuring Lee Fields & The Expressions; Produced by Just Blaze
Off the church offering skit at the end of “Clap” comes “Preacher”, which sees Saigon addressing a common topic of church politics in regards to preachers/ministers and their sometime lavish lifestyles.

“I’m seeing you man, you doing it big/Both of your kids being coming to church jigged/Wife rockin’ the five thousand dollar wig/And she got a big rock on her hand, is y’all running scam/Cause we was fuckin’ dependent on Section 8/But always had something to put in the collection plate/It was always/It was always so strange, it was odd/See my Mom was scratching up change to give it to God”

Sai makes a connection between preachers and politicians labeling them as “false prophets” for their messages and promises despite holding up their end to the people. While this topic isn’t something new or unheard of, it’s not often spoken about in rap songs, which makes it a welcomed addition especially over some lively production from Just Blaze.

11. It’s Alright
Featuring Marsha Ambrosius; Produced by Kanye West
After four straight Just Blaze bangers, things slow down with a Luther Vandross sampled track provided by Kanye West. Given the sonic landscape recently heard on Ye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy it’s probably safe to assume the production was created around the album’s conception or an old leftover gem in the stash. Regardless of the beat’s origins it’s one that complements Saigon as he scripts a letter to God about the issues and problems affecting the nation. Marsha Ambrosius lends some soulful vocals to make the song complete, which I think would have been a perfect way to conclude the album.

12. Believe It
Produced by Just Blaze
Similar to “C’mon Baby” this is another track that Saigon fans are familiar with as The Greatest Story Never Told’s first single released in 2009. Sticking with the constant theme of perseverance and hope heard on previous tracks, Sai offers words of encouragement to those in the streets caught in the same struggle he worked hard to escape from. Along with providing the track’s production Just also lends his vocals to the song’s chorus with the help of Auto-Tune, which makes the song sound a bit dated.

13. Give It To Me
Featuring Raheem DeVaughn; Produced by Just Blaze
Slowing things down with some smoother production from Just Blaze, we get a track portraying Saigon’s pursuit of that special young lady and her most valuable asset. While Raheem DeVaughn’s vocals fit comfortably with the track, Sai’s lyrics come off average at best possibly showing relationship/love tracks aren’t really his forte. Ultimately this song ends up being a bit disappointing following a section of great tracks.

14. What The Lovers Do
Featuring Devin The Dude; Produced by Red Spyda
This time around Red Spyda is behind the boards as he provides some production that does the topic more justice than the previous track. With a similar theme of pursuit, Sai talks about being involved with a girl who’s waiting until marriage for sex and his frustrated attempts to convince her otherwise. With Devin The Dude providing nice vocals on the hook (disregard Sai’s crooning) this track accomplishes what “Give It To Me” set out to in much better fashion.

15. Better Way
Featuring Layzie Bone; Produced by Just Blaze
With some piano-driven from production from Just Blaze, Saigon fashions the track as an autobiography detailing his journey from the streets through prison to the music industry ultimately with the release of The Greatest Story Never Told. Listeners that aren’t really familiar with Saigon’s story and how much it took for this album to finally see a proper release is who this track is aimed at. Not really a fan of Layzie Bone singing on the hook as a more suitable singer would have been a better choice.

16. Oh Yeah (Our Babies)
Produced by Buckwild
Continuing the feel of the previous track, Saigon focuses his lyrics on the youth caught up in the streets and the lives they’re forced to live surrounded by violence while trying to survive and not become the next victim. While Sai does a commendable job with his lyrics the beat from Buckwild disappoints becoming monotonous after a while. With improved production value this could have been a better track, which is surprising coming from a producer like Buckwild.

17. And The Winner Is…
Featuring Bun B; Produced by Just Blaze
You could label this track as “Enemies (Remix)” as it’s basically the same song that was heard earlier in the album with a guest verse from Bun B. Listening to Bun’s verse this version of the song should have been included in place of the original. This track is ultimately a dream sequence for Saigon of him performing at an awards show (presumably the Grammy’s) poised to win the award for “Best Rap Performance” before being awakened by a prison guard bringing the album full circle to its introduction.

Bottom Line:
After four years of label politics delaying its release The Greatest Story Never Told falls short of being the classic album it had the potential to be. With 17 total tracks it runs a bit lengthy losing steam towards the end but it’s understandable that Sai wouldn’t want to cut down the album any further after years of waiting for its release. Not only does TGSNT showcase a talented emcee in Saigon it also solidifies Just Blaze’s status as one of our generation’s best music producers. A core of great songs like “The Greatest Story Never Told”, “Clap”, and “Come On Baby (Remix)” displayed this album’s true potential that would have been seen with the exclusion of a few mediocre tracks (“Bring Me Down Pt. 2”, “Oh Yeah (Our Babies)”, “Give It To Me”). Aside from a few shortcomings The Greatest Story Never Told is an early candidate for the Best Rap Album of 2011 with it being one of the most cohesively structured albums heard in some time. Atlantic really dropped the ball letting this album slip away, which has enough commercial viability despite their claims. Regardless it’s an album that both Saigon and Just Blaze can be proud of assuring listeners that if it takes another four years for the next album (hopefully not) it’ll be worth the wait.

nappyPicks: “Come On Baby (Remix)” ,  “Clap” ,  “It’s Alright” ,  “Believe It” ,  “The Greatest Story Never Told” ,  “Friends” ,  “Preacher” ,  “The Invitation”

Download: Saigon feat. Joe Budden – “Bring Me Down Pt. 3” [Not On Album]