The “Soul Assassins” projects from Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs are among the most celebrated compilation albums in hip-hop, especially the inaugural S.A. record. Muggs’ sample-based, lo-fi, made-down-in-the-basement production style has been seen to attract many of hip-hop’s talented artists regardless of region (and countries, in some cases). The first two Soul Assassins albums were released in 1997 and 2000, respectively. Come 2023, the third chapter has been released to anticipated fanfare. “Soul Assassins 3: Death Valley” may have been born out from some street-level boom-bap, but the emcees chosen for this project come correct on the mic for the most part.
The third installment starts off with an instrumental comprised of an awfully moody deep bass. The first rapper to step up to the plate is Motor City’s own Boldy James with “It’s On”. Over a lo-fi vintage sample, he’s raps with a monotone, but relaxed midwestern street drawl. The Detroit emcee’s flow may be laconic, but his bars aren’t: “Until my player pad look like a palace in Greece / We in the mud so deep in the field, I should trap in some cleats.” For “Check In”, there’s a production comprised of ‘70s jazz, sounding very much like Gil Scott-Heron’s soundscapes. It’s Jay Worthy from the Canadian rap duo LNDN DRGS who’s chosen to spit over this beat. “Sicilian Gold” with the Ghostface Killah and Westside Gunn is more upbeat in that there’s harder snares, guitar riff samples, and the FLYGOD’s brazen line in which he “Heard the shots worse the lord, the tec keep stutterin’ / Marble floors in dope houses for the fuck of it.” The next track goes hand-in-hand with the beat: “67 Keys” is driven by sampled piano keys and consists of three different drug-dealing narratives courtesy of Roc Marciano, Rome Streetz, & Meyhem Lauren.
Of course, the album has to contain interludes as well. The first of which is from famous tattoo artist, Mr. Cartoon. Once the music returns, it’s Cee-Lo Green on “Jokers Wild”, where not only are there birds chirping, but Cee-Lo is also actually rapping. “Shell Casings” by T.F. is next, and both its title and beat are reminiscent of the recent Buffalo sound ala Griselda/Daringer. The production also has the added detail of the sounds of shell casings dropping in the background. Boldy James makes his second appearance on “Where We At”, where he raps over a mostly drumless instrumental, comparable to his work with Alchemist (which should come as no surprise since Muggs was the one who taught Al how to make beats). “We Ain’t Playing” features Jay Worthy, 2 Eleven, T.F & Devin the Dude on a posse cut over a trippy, underwater, murky-style beat. “Street Made” is one of the album’s best songs, it’s just straight street grime. Old school meets new school with Scarface and Freddie Gibbs, with the latter’s breath control being as impressive as ever:
The second instrumental, “Majik”, is merely a collection of informercial samples about the benefits of psilocybin. On “Burn the Playbook”, emcee/producer Evidence employs his trademark monotone slo-flow while Domo Genesis has variations in cadence, multis and, therefore, has the better verse. “Crazy Horse” has Roc Marciano & CRIMEAPPLE. Less than two minutes in length, it contains minimal drum production and some spooky string samples. CRIMEAPPLE has the louder, more confrontational flow while Roc’s voice and flow are both low-key and velvet like Goldie from “The Mack.” There’s something of a Def Jam reunion on “Metropolis” with Method Man and Slick Rick. The beat contains what sounds like a bee or fly swirling in the background, but both rap luminaries come with it. Meth is the more lyrical one (“Lord have mercy, tell all the clergy / I’m low-key (Loki), I just hold the hammer ‘cause y’all ain’t worthy”) and MC Ricky D maintains his trademark swag and detailed narrative style.
Rounding out the album, we begin with Boldy James’ third and final appearance on “We Coming For the Safe.” Of his three tracks, this one is the second best, it gets points for its street-level horror movie sound. “Skeleton Bones” is a Rome Streetz solo track while “Dump On Em” is a pure west coast affair: Featuring B-Real, MC Ren, and Ice Cube, west coast rappers rhyming over east coast-style beats is nothing new for any of them. B-Real starts it off and Ice Cube is still incisive with his rhymes. The outro at Track #19 is just a sampled speech about completing tasks. “Soul Assassins 3: Death Valley” is a good album, especially for hardcore rap aficionados. Muggs doesn’t do cookie-cutter beats incorporating the latest bits of pop trends, but he knows how to change with the times, enough to be able to recruit modern heavy-hitter emcees of today’s era. Though I’d like to see some more current emcees rip apart his tracks, what we have on “Soul Assassins 3: Death Valley” will more than suffice.