For purposes of proclamation, let's momentarily subtract the distracting addition of David Banner's hulk-a-maniac tirade on "Wonderbread," a couple of clumsy verses from the rapping alter ego of producer 9th Wonder and an unnecessary guest appearance by newcomer Ricky Ruckus. Big Remo's entrance, Entrapment, is North Carolina's most rare caviar—a 17-track LP of the finest rapping and beat presentation since another 9th Wonder project, Little Brother's debut, The Listening. Whether promising to make some lucky belle's "thong cry" over the falsetto samples of Dynamic Five on "Go Ladies" or bragging about his dope-boy troubles on his ode to the drug hustle during "Wonderbread," Remo controls during this debut.
It's about time: 9th's worked with Remo since the late '90s, when Remo and Novej formed the Winston-Salem duo The A.L.L.I.E.S. Remo's been woodshedding on mixtapes as 9th assembled his large roster of artists, producers and singles (documented on the flawed compilation 9th's Opus), but Entrapment serves as the real beginning for both the label and the rapper. Remo—a rough dude from Winston-Salem—was never poised to release the debut album that North Carolina hip-hop fans had been anticipating. But he has, and his album is the starting point for North Carolina emcees to continue releasing outstanding LPs, not mixtapes. Entrapment is a jump-start with beautiful irony—9th Wonder, whose fallout with Little Brother is often blamed for the slump in area hip-hop, is partly responsible for the comeback.
Entrapment boasts a fleet of A-list producers, from 9th and Khrysis to Young Guru, M-Phazes, Eric G. and the Grammy Award-winning production crew J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League (not to be confused with 9th's longtime collective, The Justus League). Remo has no problem adjusting to any of it. Khrysis' "What It Takes" provokes Remo's fighter streak: "I serve all you haters at the same time/ with punch lines like penguins/ niggas ain't fly, and I'm a gangsta-mod, nigga/ I can't die." Canadian crooner Colin Munroe helps Remo rub his home-wrecking abilities in our face on "Girls Most Wanted." Maybe for one time only, it's OK to hear someone boast of how they're going to steal our girlfriend—that's how good Remo is.
Everyone has a conscience, though, and for all of the tough-guy prose on "It's Like That," "Don't Matter (Over There)" and "Grown Man Biz," Remo finally delivers his sympathetic, caretaker side on "What is Your Name." MeLa Machinko contributes one of her signature vocal hooks, pleading with the at-risk women in this three-part narrative to find their individual identity. There's no telling if Remo has read Ntozake Shange's literature, but this is Remo's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. You'll walk away from this song more fulfilled than when you left Tyler Perry's screen adaptation. Remo tells their story well, and he's a master at telling his own in verse, too. Sure, Remo may never deliver the narrative behind the handcuffs on Entrapment's cover or the "Remo-Story(s)" he references on "Without You." But the enigma only propels us to wonder and want more from the rapper behind one of the few Triangle hip-hop albums to matter in years.