"If you want to hear about hustlin' and the streets, then this is the record to buy," Mack 10 says of his sixth album. "It's a handbook of stuff that people love to hear from me. A Mack 10 fan is not interested in anything other than what he's been hearing for a decade from me. I did it well on Hustla's Handbook and I think I did it in a rough type of way because my fans always want me to keep it so gangster."
Mack 10 kicks the album off with the pounding "Like This," an explosive song in which the Westside Connection member outlines his hood rich lifestyle over an innovative, bottom-heavy beat. "Everything that I'm talking about in the song, that's how you do it," Mack 10 says of the song, which also features Nate Dogg on the chorus. "That's why I called the song 'Like This.' It's a club banger, but it's hood and it's street. It's like a 'Foe Life' in '05."
Mack 10 then gets controversial on the riotous "I'm A Star," a sinister crunk cut that features talented underground St. Louis rappers Ruka Puff and Bigga Brown. Mack 10 happened upon the rappers while he was on St. Louis filming the movie Apocalypse and the Beauty Queen, in which he stars. "I just happened to go out with the guys from the movie set and they took me to this underground club," Mack 10 recalls. "Ruka Puff and them were there performing. When I saw them on stage, I went crazy. I had to do something with them."
On "My Chucks," Mack 10 explains Southern California's affinity for Converse All Stars, while on "Step Yo Game Up" he showcases his lyrical agility with a clever rap about his longevity. Elsewhere, on the mesmerizing "Pop," he is joined by protégés Red Café and Wanted (Skoop Delana & Young Soprano), all of whom describe what they want a woman to do on the dancefloor. On "Pop," Mack raps in a hushed, controlled manner that demands attention, something he also does on the intense, understated "Da Bizness."
While recording the gangsterfied "Da Bizness," Mack and cousin Young Soprano (who also produced the cut), came up with the idea of rapping in a different style for the unnerving song. "I knew that it was way different," Mack explains. "I laid the first verse and halfway through I told them to stop it, start it over and let me go again. I knew that was it. I wanted to do it right."
If Mack 10 seems to have a heightened sense of focus on Hustla's Handbook, it's because he was more comfortable than ever while recording this album. Mack's easygoing side, something seldom seen on record, shines throughout "Livin Just To Ball." On this feel-good cut, Mack reflects on his life and his success over a warm, piano-driven beat from Fredwreck. "I was just having fun," Mack 10 says of recording the cut. "It was one of the type of songs that I didn't even take it seriously when I was doing it. I was just doing it. People that would hear it would tell me that they liked the song."
Mack 10 got similar feedback from "The Testimony," a song that he wrote as if he were talking to God. With a ponderous, keyboard and horn-driven beat, Mack delivers one of the most introspective songs of his career. "It's a conversation with God and it's cold," he explains. "I'm talking to him about life and thanking him for any and everything that's gone right for me, and I'm giving people a little game, telling them, 'Turn to the Lord for he's the best to console you/And that's the realest thing that Mack 10 ever told you.' It's another side of me and that only people that really know me know that I have and I think 'The Testimony' is one of those songs that you've got to focus on."
Truth is, ever since he debuted on the Friday soundtrack in 1995, Mack 10 has been the focus of the hip-hop nation. Each one of his albums -- Mack 10 (1995), Based On A True Story (1997), The Recipe (1998), The Paper Route (2000), Bang Or Ball (2001) -- has gone gold and has served as a snapshot of West Coast rap. Mack 10's ability to infuse his gritty lyrics with wit, insight and realism makes him one of the best hard-core rappers the genre has ever seen.
As one third of Westside Connection (with Ice Cube and WC), Mack 10 formed in 1996 hip-hop's first supergroup and proved that gangster rap, especially from the West Coast, was alive and well, despite naysayers in the media and within hip-hop itself.
With Hustla's Handbook, Mack 10 continues his remarkable recording career, which has stretched more than a decade and has been one of the most consistent hip-hop has ever seen. Now, with an album that harkens back to the energetic and clever raps that made him a star a decade ago, Mack 10 has come full circle.
"I wanted to regain the form of some of my earlier stuff," he says. "I was in a good frame of mind and I wasn't under any pressure doing the record. I had a lot of fun doing this record, more than any record I've ever done."