Sick Jacken's career to date has been a trial of tragedy and triumph presented as a soundtrack of psychodelic stylings. In 1997, Jacken and his brother Big Duke reached a career peak as their group Psycho Realm became affiliated with (and heavily featured) B-Real of Cypress Hill on their self-titled major label debut. Unfortunately music label politics derailed a promising partnership between both sides, and bad went to worse when Duke was shot and paralyzed from the neck down. Psycho Realm released a couple more albums together as a group after this tragedy, but Duke gradually transitioned to a behind the scenes role and let his brother represent for them both as a group artist. That led to a second career peak for Jacken in 2007 as he and vaunted Cypress Hill producer DJ Muggs collaborated on "Legend of the Mask & the Assassin," a critically acclaimed album which may have suffered in sales due to Sick Jacken's lack of radio & video support, but one which definitely established Sick Jacken as an artist to watch for in the future.
"Stray Bullets" is an album which seeks to build on the foundation laid by "Legend" and expand his reach and popularity beyond an often unfairly marginalized label of "Hispanic/Chicano Rap." I've been outspoken about this issue in the past on RR, but as a reader recently reminded me, I've not done enough of late to review these artists and bring them to the forefront. "Stray Bullets" is the perfect place to start given the wide range of commercial and mainstream artists he does duets with throughout this 19 song CD, hence the "Stray" concept of the album - these songs hit places you wouldn't expect. There's still familiar allies though such as on "The Sickside" featuring B-Real:
Sick Jacken: "Let me tell you 'bout my hood, let me tell you 'bout my block
So many hoodlums, so many cops
Two ways out - get paid or in a box
One way to win - do what you can and shake the spot
Slugs peel, a lot of drug deals and thugs killed
It's all for money and the power cause the buck's real
And if you scared homey you can cop a church deal
Pray to God, see if he even gives a fuck still"
B-Real: "Now I don't wanna be stuck with, this bad luck shit
All you mushed out bitches I can't fuck with
This whole subject, it's painful to love it
We share the stories not meant for the public
We struggle to get here, next year new story
Takin over, wait's over, best fear the changeover
What it took to prosper, no apologies to offer
Got the best you can put on the roster
Psycho sick, Assassin sick
Every now and then we need a revolution
So we spray the hallways, you're in a haze when the song plays
And you don't wanna come at us the wrong way"
The sample in the hook sounds eerily similar to Puff Daddy's "Victory" but the melody in the verses is pure West coast Cypress Hill funk. That's apropos given that production on the album is split between Sick Jacken, DJ Muggs, Alchemist and DJ Khalil among others. While the sounds may be the expected based on Jacken's track record, the artists are definitely different from anything SJ has done before. On the "Hollywood Drive-By (Remix)" Jacken aligns with Immortal Technique for the most political rap he's done to date, with a chorus that proudly brags "revolución MOTHERFUCKER." Southern California links with British Columbia on "Sinister" as Jacken gets sick with the equally dark sounds of Swollen Members. There's no easy way to explain the line-up of "Paid Dues" though - MURS, Sick Jacken and underground freestyle legend SUPERNATURAL. It's kind of crazy!
MURS: "I come in peace but I'm from the streets
A certified beast when it come to beats
Workin ten times harder than your favorite rapper
Rollin with them Psychos, it's a new chapter
Pay respect cause I paid my dues
A real hustlin motherfucker ain't afraid to lose"
Supernatural: "Pay homage to the bombest
telepathic thoughts, on the mic like Nostradamus
Constellations and stars in my bars when I spit
These styles are all real and they not counterfeit
This is a mean 16 that is pristine
Cleaner than the red paint that's on Christine"
Sick Jacken: "I hit the street with mo' product than Feds brought in
I'm doin home invasions now cause the West forgot us
I crash shows and crack skulls, your act blows
A Living Legend and a Psycho which smash most
I pay dues like the MAAD Circle
The whiskey's gentlemen, the mast is purple, the mask is universal
It's Sickside worldwide if you haven't heard
You tuned in to Sick Jack, Supernat and MURS
You won't catch us gettin pub on the airwaves"
And on that line we come full circle to a point from earlier in this review - Sick Jacken has the West coast flow to appeal to hip-hop fans coast to coast but radio play rarely comes his way. Even so songs with the gothic opera feel of "Sick Life" featuring the Snowgoons, the bump of "Ceremonial Slang" featuring Planet Asia and underground Alchemist thump of "Born in L.A." with Evidence and Chace Infinite ought to at LEAST be on mixtapes from coast to coast. Rather than pondering whether or not there are too many people out there who aren't willing to give Sick Jacken a chance if they don't share his ethnicity, let me just say this gringo gives "Stray Bullets" two thumbs up and that I hope the diversity of collaborations here opens some eyes as well as some closed minds.
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: June 29, 2010