By Sean Fennessey
In a recent interview, the rapper Fat Joe spoke candidly about reaffirming his bona fides. "I'mma have to do something that I'm an expert at; it's called 'kill people,' " he said. Joe, of course, was speaking metaphorically about the failure of his last album, 2009's pop-reaching "Jealous Ones Still Envy 2." So his new album, "The Darkside Vol. 1," is meant as a return to the hard-nosed Miami-via-New York sound that has made the late-career version of Joseph Cartagena such a consistent - and consistently unspectacular - interloper.
"Darkside," like nearly all of Joe's albums, features a handful of songs that chill and burn in equal measure. The Cool & Dre-produced "Valley of Death" and the devilishly composed, Soul II Soul-sampling "(Ha Ha) Slow Down" are the sort of seething hip-hop that he excels at. But there are drab moments as well, particularly a lumpy, R&B-laden midsection, a predictable Lil Wayne cameo and self-serious declarations from an artist no longer at the center of his own sound.
Joe has never been celebrated as an intricate lyricist - he is mostly about heft and brute force - and can be easily diminished by his own production; his serrated voice is typically just a placeholder signifying menace and vituperation. When paired with another East Coast formalist - as on the patient, insinuating "I'm Gone," a reunion with DJ Premier - he's at home, in good hands. But, too often, Fat Joe wants to be everyone's friend.
Recommended tracks: "Valley of Death," "(Ha Ha) Slow Down"