You can’t call it a comeback, because they really have been here for years – almost twenty in fact. That being said, there’s quite a few people out there in the atmosphere who haven’t stayed aware of what Souls of Mischief had to share. SOM certainly didn’t break up after 2000’s “Vulture’s Wisdom” and Tajai’s “Power Movement” while they were simultaneously contributing SOM songs to various Hieroglyphics compilations.
For greedy needy rap fans though this simply wasn’t sufficient, especially those who came of age when “’93 Til Infinity” first came out. Hip-Hop has a collective memory of the seismic shift which resonated outward from California to the world, and the landscape changed as the limits which seemed to exist shattered completely. SOM proved you could be verbose without being nerdy, hard without being thugged out, mellow without being a stoner stereotype and hella fly with their own mode of speech. Many imitated what came out of the Hieroglyphics camp, and while a few came close to approximating it, none could duplicate it – especially Souls of Mischief. In fact the success of “’93 Til” became one of those unreasonable moments any gifted artist eventually experiences. Michael Jackson couldn’t make “Thriller 2” any more than SOM could make “’95 Til Infinity” – and you can’t blame them for not trying. In summary, here’s four things you need to remember about “Montezuma’s Revenge”:
(1.) It’s 2009, not 1993. Reminisce on the past, but don’t dwell in it.
(2.) Just like Wu-Tang Clan, SOM never split, they just did solo joints.
(3.) If you think they haven’t recorded together since 2000 you’re WRONG.
(4.) Souls of Mischief are ready to invigorate the rap scene all over again.
Even before a promo copy of “Montezuma’s Revenge” hit my desk, the peeps at Audible Treats have been leaking out selected tracks from this increasingly anticipated album, complete with audio drops designed to shake the bootleggers off. The album doesn’t drop until December, so it’s understandable to hear “Yo whassup? This is Opio from Souls of Mischief, you’re checking out Montezuma’s Revenge, one love” interrupting songs like “LaLaLa.” Despite the drops snippets of dope lyricism still sneak out the speakers: “You know A-Plus, you know he nuts like a cashew/cuss like a head coach and bust like a gat do!” The raps are ill, but thanks to Prince Paul the track might be even iller.
YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY. The legendary Prince Paul has linked up with the Hieroglyphic Imperium to provide some production on “Montezuma’s Revenge” and “LaLaLa” is a study in unconventional dopeness. The drum track is like a tambourine rubbed and slapped against a washboard, punctuated by rimshots. A short guitar riff looped in the background is so fresh it never gets repetitive, and wouldn’t even if the song was two minutes longer. The song itself is just the fearsome four freestyling flyness, so it’s up to Paul to provide the theme with the hook, and “LaLaLa” draws its name entirely from the arabic singers crooning between verses. The song’s dope as hell but it’s one of many creative musical and lyrical combos to be found on “Montezuma’s Revenge” like the lead single “Tour Stories”:
“Ain’t no way to count all the flights I’m takin
Chillin in Australia with them white Jamaicans
In Tokyo, I wasn’t relaxin when I smoked (what?)
They throw the book at you if they catch you with a roach!
International ladies be givin up the numbers
Your homey get around like Christopher Columbus
And they know – I’ll be back like Arnold
Act carnal, soon as I slam the car do’!
That’s hard fo’, a lot of brothers but not me you could
watch the Travel Channel probably spot me and I’m
very thankful I ain’t gotta be cocky but I’m
flyer than a motherfucker, somebody stop me!”
Long-time Hiero member Domino and Prince Paul share the production credit here, but whoever gets it deserves props for the light airy feel of the music and how well it melds with the drums and subtle bassline, then picks up nicely by bringing in scratches and funky horns on the hook. Sometimes when you listen to a beat you get the sense it only took a minute to think of and five to create, but on songs like “Tour Stories” you picture the producers spending three straight days in the lab just tweaking one song – creating a bar of music, looping it, sampling from it, remixing it, reverberating it, blending it, discarding it, creating something brand new and liking it more, then taking the discarded dopeness and bringing it back into the fold – all done over and over again. That sense pervades the entire album. On “Proper Aim” you’ll enjoy the beats and the rhymes in equal measure:
“Op don’t need amphetamine
Op is an adrenaline fiend, Op live for the filthy scheme
Op gotta get the fettu-cine, similar to Medellin
Cartel, you never met a king
That’s pushin with a head of steam like I’m Edgerrin James
Biggest Kilimanjaro bantamweight spaghetti green
They whylin in the mezzanine with a heavy chain
Follow to your limousine, stuck you like a nicotine patch
My reaction time is like a matador
If it seem imagined or inflated, check your vantage point”
Sink beneath the surface of the properly constructed linguistics and peep the bassline, plucked like you’re sitting in a smoky nightclub listening to a jazz trio. Then notice the intentional crackle of the dusty record sampled, making the song far doper than it would be without that crispy feel. Then notice the carefully timed cymbal hits and rolls. Then notice the almost eerie melody that hits right before the mic is passed off artist to artist. Then pull back and soak in the whole thing at the meta level – the song works either way. When hip-hop is done right, you should be able to listen to the same song multiple times and get different experiences. Time and time again on “Montezuma’s Revenge” that’s exactly what happens. One gets the feeling Domino and Prince Paul bounced ideas off each other the same way the four rappers of SOM do in a cypher, and that creativity manifests itself repeatedly in songs like the head-nodding “You Got It,” the symphonic and beautiful (yet almost ironically titled) “Postal” and the relationship tale of woe “Lickety Split.”
While it’s too early to have the advantage of perspective gained sixteen years after “’93 Til Infinity” was made, and the bootleg preventing drops do interfere here and there, this has the makings of a brand new classic set to shake things up all over again. It’s perhaps fitting that Prince Paul is so heavily credited for his contributions, because even though not every track on this promo has production notes, one can note from the production of this album his demented genius influenced even songs produced strictly by the Hiero camp. Since the members of Hiero were no slouches behind the board to begin with (most interchangeably as good at rapping as at making beats) the result puts the word gestalt to shame, because it’s even greater than being greater than the sum of its parts – and when it gets that great it’s just art period.