AZ Nine Lives

The luck of Anthony Cruz, aka AZ, has fluctuated drastically since his entry into the rap game. He happened to be in the right place at the right time when Nas was recording his classic album Illmatic, and the sole heartfelt verse he kicked on "Life's A Bitch" from that 1994 release earned him a record deal. While his subsequent Doe Or Die album only had a few priceless moments, his association with Nas landed him a spot in the rap super-group the Firm. Things went downhill from here, with internal conflicts derailing that project and a second solo album released with little fanfare accelerated his trip into obscurity. While Nine Lives testifies to his return from the loss of his record deal and low profile, it has also put AZ in an unenviable position. Obviously wary of the pitfalls in the music business, he tries to hold things down by mixing tracks obviously targeted for the radio ("Everything's Everything") and at the same time trying to convey wisdom and insight into the personal hardships he's endured over the years ("Love Me"). It's a fine line to tread and unfortunately for AZ, the results are like mixing oil with water. While he definitely has not lost his gift of wordplay, he's ensured that he's at least got one less life to play with. (Universal)