Young Chris survived The Roc break-up better than most. While others spent time in prison, lost relevance, began beefing heavily with Jay and each other, or walked away from music voluntarily and permanently, Chris went back to the grind, putting out a number of hard-edged mixtapes that were informed by the success and splendour he experienced as part of the peak Roc-A-Fella years.
His Network series will likely become the defining work of his career. Grammy-nominated sounds nice, and going Gold with Neef as part of Young Gunz will always remain part of his history, but the line he toes between lyrical prowess and real-life emotion on his Network mixtapes is unique.
Let's interject for a second and talk about the guest list. There are two ways to get a big name artist on your track: build up enough trust capital that your phone calls get answered every time, or pay exorbitant amounts. How much do you think a Lil Wayne feature costs? On his Network series alone he's had Wale, J. Cole, Bobby Valentino, Rico Love, Black Thought, Rhymefest, Twista, and Curren$y. No mixtape artist is buying features like this! Young Chris has the respect of his peers. He even managed to get Oschino on a track, a Philly legend who isn't too enamoured with State Property at the moment.
Network 4, then, comes across as honest and accurate, frauds don't get the respect of their peers like this. And while Chris was once believed to be the source of Jay Z's 2002-2004 flow, there's little trace of Jay in Chris, or Chris in Jay anymore. He doesn't sound like your typical Philly rapper, rather his halting delivery sounds distantly related to the legendary N.O.R.E., with the added dexterity to attack a variety of beats and time signatures. He finds the pocket on "Calling All Girls", slips into a trap-flavoured groove on "All I Need", and even switches his vocal tone up on the closer "Cash", showcasing his more melodic side.
While the lyrical themes (perseverance, women, money, drugs, success) aren't new ground, they're all delivered with a frankness that endears Chris to an audience saturated with this content. Final song "Cash" seems to borrow from both Nas ("Stillmatic Intro") and Kanye ("My Way Home"), while Chris raps autobiographically, sprinkling the track with details that only someone who lived it could know (slim Glad bags, dread-locked dealers, Chase street). On "All I Need" he pens a love letter tinged with hard truths, and "Live By The Code" may be the most honest recount of the Roc collapse yet, with Chris reflecting (but never naming names) with humility and an objective intelligence free of the emotion his cohorts have moved with at times during the past decade.
Chris has always been highly regarded as a lyricist, but his emotional intelligence is on display in almost every track on this tape. He elevates it above most other mixtapes on the scene by lacing it with hot beats and even hotter guest spots, but those superficial aspects will only take an artist so far. It's got to connect with you on some level, and Chris shares the skill of relating to the struggle of the average person with former CEO Jay Z. You don't connect with beats, you connect with honesty and integrity, both of which Chris has in spades.