Not that Bow Wow wasn't gradually working his way toward it, but on New Jack City II, the MC, now 22 years old, makes like a younger and slightly cleaner T.I. However, Bow Wow doesn't merely project the kind of smooth toughness/tough smoothness exuded by his obvious inspiration. There are moments where the album sounds exactly like an attempted cloning, as heard in the kicked-back yet insolent flow throughout the opening "Get That Paper," and it even appears that way, as seen in the video for "You Can Get It All," from the mannerisms to choice of eyewear. Though Bow Wow drops a litany of curses from track to track and has transitioned from "Hey Little Momma" to "Pole in My Basement," New Jack City II is nonetheless within the domain of pop-rap, laced with candy-coated hooks and beats that are easy on the ears. Jermaine Dupri's long-running tradition of supplying Bow Wow with productions built on very easily identifiable sources continues (Rick James' "Big Time," TLC's "Baby-Baby-Baby," Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walking," Slick Rick's "La Di Da Di," Bobby Brown's "Roni"), and Swizz Beatz, oddly credited as "Swizz Beatsz," provides a typically noisy and purposefully obnoxious production for the closer, one of Bow Wow's toughest tracks yet. Some of these developments come off a little forced, but Bow Wow knew he had to abandon the PG material or risk irrelevance. It should pay off, yet it has no apparent effect on his output's quality level.
Recorded in 1992, Night Bird Song remained in the can for seven years before Knitting Factory released it in 1999. Thomas Chapin had met an untimely death from leukemia in February 1998 (he was only 40), and this posthumous release was greeted with great enthusiasm by those who were hip to the saxman/flutist's music.
It's regrettable that this avant-garde/post-bop recording went unreleased for so long, for Chapin's trio (which included bassist Mario Pavone and drummer Michael Sarin) is inspired, unpredictable, and cohesive throughout the album. Sticking to his own compositions, Chapin favors an inside/outside approach and fluctuates between moments of quiet, AACM-influenced reflection and intensely emotional playing. Chapin's pieces tend to be cerebral and angular and don't go out of their way to be accessible, but they're well worth exploring because the expressive improviser had a lot to say. Whether he's playing the alto sax, sopranino sax, flute, or alto flute, Chapin's restless spirit serves him well throughout Night Bird Song.