The difference between the first two Wu-Tang Clan albums is astonishing. Four years may not feel like a long time nowadays, but 1993 and 1997 were completely different – the gritty, analog feel of 1993’s “Enter the Wu-Tang” is another world to 1997’s cinematic, digital double-disc epic that was “Wu-Tang Forever”. At the turn of the millennium, Philadelphia duo Jedi Mind Tricks emerged originally with an album that must have angered a few record store clerks: “The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological & Electro-Magnetic Manipulation of Human Consciousness” generated some buzz but it was 2000’s cult classic “Violent by Design” that solidified Vinnie Paz as the violent wordsmith we know him as today. Producer Stoupe crafted an incredible 22-track LP full of Philly talent and some fierce collaborations with east coast emcees such as Esoteric and Tragedy Khadafi.
Much like RZA transformed early Wu’s barebones aesthetic to the juggernaut of a record that “Wu-Tang Forever” became, Stoupe similarly raised his game in 2003 not just with Jedi Mind Tricks’ orchestral sampling “Visions of Gandhi”, but also gifting Canibus his best record too (“Rip the Jacker”). Stoupe’s move from a bedroom setup to a professional studio was similarly chasmic and was a pivotal record in the underground hip hop scene.
Both “Violent by Design” and “Visions of Gandhi” saw Queensbridge veteran Tragedy Khadafi team with Vinnie on B-side singles “Genghis Khan” and “Kublai Khan”, two of their most popular tracks. When these drop at a Jedi Mind concert, you know the fans are about to start moshing. Whilst it may not be a surprise to see Vinnie and Tragedy collaborate for a full album in 2019, it certainly feels long overdue.
With Stu Bangas and C-Lance holding down the majority of the production, an ominous atmosphere fills each song with dread and threat. Despite the artwork depicting a well-worn meat cleaver, the bulk of the content revolves around the duo’s collection of machine guns. Bullets will have your name on them before they “touch you like Bambaataa”, take your arteries out and, well you get the idea. Vinnie’s creativity was one of his selling points, particularly on Jedi Mind Tricks’ records, so it’s a shame he’s restricted to just guns and ammunition. It’s all a little one-dimensional, lacking the killer imagery of memorable lines like “I’m savage, I write rhymes in pitch blackness”.
While it’s known Vinnie likes anything related to death, “Camouflage Regime” is at its best when life is breathed into it. Giallo Point’s beat on “Fiber Optic Weapons” is just that, and inspires guest Ill Bill to steal the show with his tongue-twisting verse:
Tragedy Khadafi however, sounds as good as he did twenty years ago. Taking on nearly all the hooks, his verses demonstrate his natural flow and when coupled with ground-pounding instrumentals like “Thought Machine” and “A Warrior’s Fate”, the album often feels like a Tragedy one featuring Vinnie Paz. It’s just all a little uninspired and pales in comparison to their earlier collaborations.