I readily admit that I’m not a long-time Jedi Mind Tricks fan. Matter of fact, I was only put on to the group after hearing Stoupe’s amazing production on the “Rip The Jacker” CD released by Canibus last year. My first and only experience with the group is last year’s “Visions of Gandhi” release. I thought then, and I stand by my statement, that the CD contained some of the best production of the year and possibly some of the best production ever heard on a hip-hop album. While I have never found Vinnie Paz to be a great MC, his style, hunger, and raw energy are the perfect complement to Stoupe’s production, no matter how homophobic, violent, and anti-Catholic his lyrics may be. I obviously had great expectations for “Legacy of Blood”. I didn’t expect a classic from the group, but expected them to continue the solid production and complimentary lyrics found on “Visions of Gandhi”. So as “Legacy of Blood” finds its way into my CD player I must ask myself, are my expectations unrealistic? Is it fair to compare the CD to “Visions of Gandhi”?
Upon listening to “Legacy of Blood” I remember moments in my college career when, in discussing papers and assignments with professors, I would hear the words “This is good, but you’ve done better.” This review is best understood when keeping that statement in mind.
Lyrically I can honestly say Vinnie Paz has stepped his game up this time around. While the unnecessary and often times disturbing homophobia and anti-Christian/Catholic imagery is ever present, he manages to add a bit more style and flair to his flow. On the second track of the CD, “The Age of Sacred Terror”, Vinnie goes all out:
“I make you bleed with knives
I was born with all-seeing eyes
I could snatch a rapper’s heart before he bleeds and dies
The caveman still believe in lies
You don’t want no blood or no beef like you was vegan
If you serve God for money, you serve the devil
Claim to be in a war, never heard the metal
Never even been in combat
Never even felt the supreme love of a warm gat”
This last line especially caught my attention as it conveys a disturbing image of love and murder somehow intertwined and feeding off of each other. There is no doubt that when he wants to, Vinnie Paz can be an effective lyricist and can manage to make even the most boring thugged out subject sound fresh. Yet, Vinnie’s subject matter is also his greatest weakness as an MC. Behind the sometimes clever lines, vivid imagery, and hunger found in Vinnie’s verses are the same subjects most rappers talk about. Drugs, thugs, and especially violence are present in almost every verse. While his delivery is fresh at times, in the end it can and does get repetitive. In some cases you swear Vinnie is saying the same thing verse after verse, song after song, just in different ways. When he strays from his preferred stomping ground, the results are stellar. On “Saviorself” both Vinnie and guest Killah Priest drop knowledge about religion, and give a history lesson to those cats who don’t visit the mosque or church often enough. Another stand-out track lyrically is the last track, “Before the Great Collapse”, where Vinnie gives us a chilling suicide letter addressed to his mother:
“Mommy, I don’t wanna live no more
I don’t think I got nothing else to give no more
It’s like I lost my passion for life
It’s like all my actions are trife
I don’t feel like I used to about the world
I don’t feel like I used to about my girl
I just wanna die mommy cause it’s too hard
I just wanna die calmly and to view God”
This is definitely a strong and emotional track, and may be the best cut on the CD. Vinnie gets personal with us and manages to abandon the hate and violence found in the rest of the album for just a moment. If Vinnie could manage to explore topics such as this more often he could be a much more effective MC, and could convey whatever message he has more effectively. An hour of listening to Vinnie Paz get angry about the same thing can get old quick, but he manages to salvage his subject matter with his fierce style and occasional stellar performances, and in the end delivers a solid performance on the mic.
Now to what I’ve always considered to be JMT’s strong point, the music. I love Stoupe’s production, he stands out amongst the hundreds, if not thousands of hip-hop producers out there for many reasons. Mainly I feel Stoupe’s production goes the extra step. While other cats are content with a tight drum track and a nice sample or loop to go with it, Stoupe’s music transcends that simplicity as he crafts tracks that follow the lyricist and seems to tell a story parallel to what the MC is saying. On top of that, Stoupe’s music is what can best be described as richly layered. Stoupe doesn’t stop with just a drum track and a melody, he adds many instruments, samples that play off each other nicely, excerpts from movies, etc. Basically, Stoupe comes up with music that is deep and detailed. Now this is my opinion, from my experience with two Stoupe-produced CD’s, and I must say that on his latest offering, he disappoints. I know many people will disagree with me, but very few beats on “Legacy of Blood” even hold a candle to the most mediocre track on “Visions of Gandhi”. The production isn’t bad, it’s solid and better than most production found on hip-hop releases today. Stoupe doesn’t try to go with the latest trend or force a club hit, but his production is missing that extra step that separated him from the pack before.
The first few tracks are very solid. Stoupe gives us hard hitting beats with sharp snares and deep bass, which he complements nicely with many different and varied samples. But this time around it seems to be lacking the detail and depth his previous production has had. He does give us a few stand-out tracks. He takes a chance and succeeds with “The Worst,” where he uses what sounds like a xylophone to provide the main melody for the beat. The result can best be described as warped and sinister carnival music, happy and upbeat yet disturbing and scary at the same time. The production on the remix to “The Eve of War” is also stellar, and in my opinion is much better than the classical music backdrop found on the original. While the original is like a war call, the remix seems more like a track meant to reminisce to. It is mellow and laid back, a perfect backdrop for a soldier on the eve of war to remember just what he or she has sacrificed and may possibly lose as they go into the battlefield. But even these stellar tracks don’t seem to sound as good as previous Stoupe production. Though I can not pinpoint why, this time around Stoupe just doesn’t sound as fresh or innovative as it did before. The music overall is soulful, mellow, and well crafted, but it lacks the energy that it needs for a JMT release to be successful.
In the end “Legacy of Blood” is a riddle, even to this reviewer, even after multiple listens on headphones, car stereos, and home stereos. There is something missing from this CD that was present in previous efforts. Every time I listen to this album, it only makes me want to listen to “Rip the Jacker” or “Visions of Gandhi.” So after all this, the statement that best describes this CD is:
It’s good, but Jedi Mind Tricks have done better.
In some cases, the sum of the whole is better than the individual parts, but in this case the reverse is true. I would argue Vinnie Paz has actually improved since “Visions of Gandhi” and Stoupe’s production hasn’t necessarily gotten worse, yet when put together you get a product that isn’t as strong as any of its individual parts. There are occasions where Stoupe and Vinnie connect and deliver perfomances that match each other well, but overall Stoupe’s more mellow and soulful production on this effort doesn’t complement Paz’ fierce lyrics and energetic flow. And, if this trend does continue for JMT it might become apparent that Stoupe might have hit his peak last year and that Vinnie Paz isn’t that clever or that nice on the mic without the proper background. But for the time being, “Legacy of Blood” is still recommended as an above average effort.