NAAM Brigade began as Tasq 4orce, a spirited gangsta-rap unit that battled its way out of the same Philadelphia neighborhood that spawned the Roots. The act had just signed to Elektra in 1998 when founding member Q-Don was killed by a stray bullet during a nightclub melee. Elektra opted out, but the remaining three regrouped under the NAAM Brigade moniker with new member Meek Millz. NAAM offers lighter fare than Tasq 4orce's gritty urban storytelling, though the usual lyrical suspects (gunplay, thug-life hustling, ice, Hennessy) remain firmly in place. Hobbled by overly polite production, Early in the Game
doesn't have enough head-bobbing bounce to be convincing. It's too slick and singsongy to sound like something dredged from a ghetto gutter.
At times, the quartet overcomes these setbacks on the strength of its MCs -- four voices that are unique enough to prevent monotony. But NAAM's members don't sound hungry, and the production, which plagiarizes the guitar line from P-Diddy's "Bad Boy 4 Life" and shamelessly emulates Cash Money's Crescent City crunk, is equally lazy. With some fresh ideas and a little more fire, NAAM's debut might've been one of the year's snappiest comebacks, but lackluster performances and a dearth of imagination overshadow the proceedings.