West Coast battle rapper Planet Asia is not a team player — in fact, he’s kind of a hip-hop counterpart to basketball showboat Kobe Bryant — and his rap persona will typically outshine anyone who tries to share the stage with him. So it’s not surprising that Asia comes a lot harder on his new solo album, The Medicine, than on previous collaborations with Rasco, his lesser counterpart in the duo Cali Agents. Characterized by the toughness and elegance of its flows, The Medicine coheres better than the Agents’ 2004 release Head of State, where the duo sounded like they couldn’t decide whether or not they wanted to make a hip-hop album or a pop album.
This time Asia veers towards the pop side, as evinced by his frequent lapses into badass caricature (on “Get Down or Lay Down” he gleefully mixes metaphors for rap battles, heists and big nuts), his obligatory looped elevator beat song (“In Love With You” features an addictive hook by R&B vocalist Jonell) and even the title of his new label, Gold Chain Music (Asia obviously realized that few women can resist the transfixing powers of gold chains). The persona actually suits him just fine and he plays it with brio. He takes obvious pleasure in bragging about how fresh he is, and throws in quippy, politically-incorrect lyrics about being “onstage with more niggas than Fela Kuti” (which sounds about right to anyone who has seen him perform live).
Granted, the one thing Head of State had going for it was production. The beats on The Medicine, mostly composed by Evidence of L.A.’s Dilated Peoples, are hit-or-miss and often sound too flat or too flowery for Asia’s megalomaniac personality. As someone who often seemed to be on the verge of national stardom, only to never quite make it, Planet Asia might get his just desserts if he could find a Mannie Fresh or Dr. Dre who’d put up with him. Or maybe he should just learn to make his own beats. No need to share the spotlight, after all.
— Rachel Swan