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Original release date: 27 January, 2004
Label: Atlantic

Did you know that Slow Jamz is a Twista song?

Of course you remember his glorious performance; the Chicago rapper popping syllables off the chipmunk vocal sample and carressed bongos, waxing lyrical about Hennessey and the classic R&B in his CD collection as Jamie Foxx sings so sweetly. But did you know that it was Twista’s name that received top billing on the song and not producer Kanye West? You’d be forgiven for mistaking Slow Jamz for a Ye single – once an edit appeared on The College Dropout, that album’s classic status meant the track would belong to him forever more. But Slow Jamz was forged to be Twista’s relaunch party, the renaissance of a career that, at the start of 2004, looked desperately unsteady.

Over a decade had passed since Mr. Tung Twista made a name for himself by breaking the world record for fastest rapper – 598 syllables in 55 seconds, verified by a speech pathologist, a representative from Guinness World Records and a reporter from The Source. The achievement was timed to help market his 1992 debut album, Runnin’ Off at da Mouth, but it had not translated to commercial success. Loud Records president Steve Rifkind would later admit that his decision to sign Twista was partly based on the “exploitability” of the world record hook: “We really made a shitload of mistakes [with Twista].” Things were so slow, Twista spent some time working as a telemarketer to support his family.

So Kamikaze is a moment seized. His first album in seven years – several lifetimes in rap – Twista harnessed the momentum generated from his Kanye connections and first true MTV hit to create a definitive artistic and commercial statement, while wrenching back ownership of a distinct rapping style he felt others had commandeered in his absence.

@forgottengems_ #twista #kanyewest #overnight #celebrity #2004 #forgottengems_ #music #throwback #gem #tunes #still #slaps #fyp #foryou ♬ original sound – forgottengems_

Really, the title of Kamikaze is nonsensical. The suicide missions deployed by Japan towards the end of World War II were desperate acts performed by doomed pilots that elicited panic in the enemy. Sure, with that speedy style known in the Midwest as “chopper”, Twista can flow quicker than a Gatling gun rattling out bullets, but he isn’t just some brainless speed merchant. Across Kamikaze, he is in complete control, timing his words like an expert percussionist. Kill Us All‘s lean ‘n’ mean instrumental, provided by Toxic (who produces seven Kamikaze tracks in all), enables Twista to give a clinic in double-time rapping, stuffing his bars with internal rhyme patterns, the rhythmic speed bag of his voice never missing a beat.

Hitting every base a listener could want from a mid-2000s commercial rap album, Kamikaze runs all over the stylistic spectrum: there’s the strip club bounce of Badunkadunk; the ice-cold hustlers anthem Pimp On, which sees Twista, 8 Ball and Too $hort ushered into this particular playa hater’s ball by none other than Don “Magic” Juan; Like a 24 is a Southern-leaning club banger and, curiously, the only contribution from regular Twista producer The Legendary Traxster. 

The star doesn’t rap at breakneck speed all the time, either. He slows to a more appropriate pace on Drinks, a wonky ode to alcohol and women that wackily compares the two (“What’s my favourite drink?/ Girl can I sip on you, sip on you?”). On the churchly Hope, Twista envisions a better world, where only good news reaches TV networks, Biggie and Pac lived, and “that super homie Christopher Reeve could still walk”. When Twista takes his foot off the pedal, I’m reminded of when John Travolta’s Chili Palmer in Be Cool was asked why he didn’t drive a faster car: “If you’re important, people will wait.”

Slow Jamz isn’t the only hot single here. Overnight Celebrity sees Kanye pitch-shift an old Lenny Williams song and add Miri Ben-Ari’s opulent violin to create another classic 2004 Ye beat, while Twista promises his girl all of life’s finer things. And there’s Sunshine, which heavily incorporates a familiar Bill Withers sample, with Anthony Hamilton acting as an effective analog in places for the legendary singer. It feels like a deliberate run for radio play – I remember Sunshine in rotation on MTV Base back in the day. But that doesn’t diminish what is an enjoyable slice of bright pop-rap in which Twista shows love to everyone who deserves some: the single parents, the strippers, the entrepreneurs, the thugs. Doing so with the sincerity of a man whose own smile had wonderfully returned.