On “Dream,” the fifth track on Cartel Diem: Lifestyles of the Young & Reckless, Tha Cartel detail their music’s background and New Orleans birthplace in terms not so much geographical as topographical: “Never seen a mountain, never seen a beach.” The rest of the track talks about thinking big and getting beyond the city’s boundaries, but musically speaking at least, the album doesn’t share that ambition. Cartel Diem is a New Orleans hip-hop record, right down the middle of that genre’s strike zone. Tha Cartel is not trying to reinvent the wheel here or to push the limits of the form. It combines booming bass drums and catchy keyboard riffs with wordplay that draws heavily on local vernacular.
After the first track, most listeners will be able to predict where the drumbeats and hooks fall for the rest of the album. Its lyrical content doesn’t stray far from the typical, either: in describing the lifestyle of the album’s title, Lefty and Superstar Snake boast that they have more money, nicer cars, bigger guns, and better sex than you do. Their rhymes are clever and inventive, but there’s nothing here you haven’t heard before.
None of that is a problem, exactly. The beats bounce, the rhymes are funny, and the album sounds good when you play it loud. Cartel Diem might not make it to the mountains, the beach, or very far from the Orleans Parish line, but it’s about right for the neutral ground.