* * 1/2
Fans of the Notorious B.I.G. are familiar with the M.A.F.I.A. through the hot single “Players Anthem.” On the rest of this debut album, however, the results are mixed. Plenty of talent abounds, but the majority of the crew has problems escaping the B.I.G. man’s shadow.
The subject matter is standard, tired gangsterism: dealing with intended slights, reputation tests, gunshots and scandalous situations. True, other emcees, from B.I.G. to Raekwon, have traveled similar terrain while somehow elevating the art form. But “White Chalk,” despite an ingenious Method Man vocal hook, is just a standard revenge track.
The album doesn’t really pick up until “Players Anthem,” the perfect combination of a lush, slow-rolling backing track and clever lyrics by Little Caesar, B.I.G. and the dynamic Little Kim. Kim is the surprise of the album, a female emcee with enough imagination and vinegar to be an effective match to B.I.G. on “Get Money” and to do more than do her own thing on “Backstabbers.”
But overall “The Conspiracy” is like watching a kung-fu flick on video: You often have to fast-forward to the best fight scenes to remind you why you wanted to watch it in the first place.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (e x cellent).