March 5, 2008

DJ Muggs - Soul Assassins II (October 3, 2000)


DJ Muggs, erstwhile producer from the rap group Cypress Hill and creator of porno film scores, released the follow-up to his mildly-successful-if-not-chart-topping-or-record-setting-in-its-sales solo project, DJ Muggs Presents: Soul Assassins, Chapter 1, in 2000. SImply referred to as Soul Assassins II (the "chapter" has been dropped, possibly so that nobody will expect Chapter 3?), Muggs kept the ingredients the same (hip hop artists over Muggs production, some well-known, some only well-known to blog nerds like myself and their own parents), but added a couple of new cooks in the kitchen: Al "The Alchemist" Maman, who was a fringe member of the loose collective known as the Soul Assassins for years at this point (the group also features Cypress Hill, some other assorted rappers and musicians, and some graphic designers, who all require some aid in their attempt to take over the world using only music, art, and weed: click on the link below the review to find out more on how to contribute) was able to sneak a few contributions onto the final pressing, mainly with artists who would have otherwise have no business being even remotely linked to Cypress Hill. DJ Khalil, who I must admit I wasn't even aware knew Muggs personally, until I researched and found that Khalil once saved Muggs from the wrath of a murderous polar bear in downtown Los Angeles by wearing a tuxedo made up of beef jerky and empty Coca-Cola cans and running through a crowded public area, even manages to squeak by with a track from his rap outfit Self-Scientific (which also includes rapper Chace Infinite; the group would later team up with Muggs to form their own label, Angeles Records, but that's neither here nor there.)

Due to Cypress Hill's longtime association with Columbia Records (they've been signed to their subsidiary Ruffhouse for quite a while now), Muggs was easily able to convince the label to release some of his own musings, and thanks to their contributions, Muggs was able to include hip hop heavyweights like Dr. Dre and, um, Call O' Da Wild on Chapter 1. However, not actually selling any records is still to date the best way to get your record label to turn on you, and Columbia did just that, relegating Soul Assassins II to a subsidiary of fucking Ruffhouse called Rufflife, where the only other signed artists were rap group the Outsidaz (whose original lineup included future Rabbit Marshall Mathers; sadly, he wasn't in the group when they signed this deal); given the fact that Rufflife weren't provided with any sort of marketing budget to promote anything, the label would soon fold like a bad poker hand.

I actually don't recall any sort of advertising for Soul Assassins II anywhere except for on the Interweb, which doesn't make sense, because in 2000 nobody was viral-marketing anything. I also never saw a video (this may just be laziness on my part), but I do recall the first single that leaked was "When The Fat Lady Sings" by Gza/Genius: the Wu-Tang Clan lyrical swordsman was carefully chosen to help listeners remember his contribution on the original project's "Third World" (on which he appeared alongside his cousin The Rza). Due to a lack of awareness around the album (and the fact that I was pretty fucking broke at the time), I simply burned the album to disc and went on my merry way to work, where I listened to it in my office, hoping to hear more of what I liked from the first chapter, and less of the bullshit. Instead, I found Soul Assassins II to be a much darker album, taking place in a world where clubbing was verboten and the only way to stay alive was to be more aggressive than the last guy. Also, it featured much more consistent Muggs production work, which is to say that he wasn't blatantly trying to rip off the sounds of the producers that appeared on Chapter 1 (see: Dr. Dre, The Rza).

Inevitably, this led me to (gasp!) buy the fucking album, which I probably paid too much for, since it was one of those discs that wasn't advertised in the Best Buy sale ad on Sunday due to lack of promotion by Rufflife, so it was selling at full price, but whatever. After tearing open the plastic, I was shocked to find an extra song at the end of the disc (the Self-Scientific contribution which I alluded to earlier), followed by the outro, which I had already heard on my version of the album. In fact, my version also separated the intro from the first song, whereas they are now crammed onto the first track on the real album. (Obviously, I downloaded a promotional copy, but I wasn't aware of it at the time.) Compounding my confusion later was the fact that there was yet another song featured at the end of the international version, which I hunted down on the Interweb just so I could write about it for my two loyal readers.

Ultimately, I believe that I was the only person in the world that actually picked up Soul Assassins II, since soon afterward Muggs found himself having to procure an apartment hunter for a new label home for his solo work. Of course, Columbia kept him on for his work with Cypress Hill (since record labels are shady and two-faced like that), but around this time longtime Cypress listeners would notice that Muggs would slowly and carefully let other producers handle some of the production duties on their studio albums, almost as if he were trying to extract himself from the group and/or their contract. Whatever. It's not like Muggs doesn't make any money: I remember reading an interview where a reporter asked him what popped in his mind every time House of Pain's "Jump Around" would come on the radio (Muggs produced the track), and he responded something to the effect of "The royalty check in my mailbox".

The end result of Soul Assassins II is a dark, moody album with no obvious singles, for the club, radio, or otherwise, that nobody bothered to promote and sold only one copy.

Is that something that should be changed?

1. REAL LIFE (KOOL G. RAP)
Soul Assassins II has an interesting The Warriors theme throughout, specifically the radio deejay who kept reporting the gang's actions to the audience. Kool G. Rap's storytelling sounds as potent as ever, but the beat lets him down: it tries to sound soulful, but has the same effect as taking two Ambien with a vodka chaser.

2. WE WILL SURVIVE (G.O.D. PT. III)
This song presents the opposite problem. The beat sounds great, but G.O.D. Pt. III (a rapper from Mobb Deep's weed carrying group the Infamous Mobb, and a guy that has one of the most awkward names in hip hop, right up there next to "Barbara Walters") fails the track. WIth all of the allusions to Mobb Deep on here, it makes you wish that Havoc and Prodigy were available to spit on this instead. Okay, maybe not Prodigy.

3. YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT (XZIBIT & KING TEE)
Some flat-out pimp swagger 1970's blaxploitation shit. This song fucking rocks. Xzibit is a slow burn personified, and King Tee provides much-needed contrast with his friendlier-by-comparison flow.

4. WHEN THE FAT LADY SINGS (GZA/GENIUS)
This song may only exist to create a link between Chapter 1 and Soul Assassins II, but while Gza sounds good, the beat and hook suck ass. Songs like this make me wonder why Gza thought it would be a good idea to do an entire album with DJ Muggs (although that album, to be fair, did not suck).

5. THIS SOME'N TO (GOODIE MOB)
Goodie Mob was also brought back to capitalize off of their superior Chapter 1 outing, "Decisions Decisions", but they left Cee-Lo behind, which is a shame: his long-ass final verse on Chapter 1 was a master's piece teaching wannabe rappers what they will have to go through in the record industry. This song, in comparison, isn't bad, but it certainly isn't good.

6. ARMAGEDDON (INTERLUDE) (KURUPT)
I've mentioned numerous times on this blog how I'm still puzzled as to how Kurupt snagged the final slot in the rap supergroup The Four Horsemen, alongside Canibus, Killah Priest, and Ras Kass. I stand by my statement, since his work with those other three rappers hasn't impressed me yet, but when he's in his element, I do like Kurupt, and he rips the shit out of this powerful instrumental with his one verse. Too bad it's just an interlude.

7. VICTORY & DEFEAT (HOSTYLE)
The Alchemist gets tagged in and provides the musical accompaniment to Hostyle's solo effort. To this day, I'm not sure why Hostyle (of the rap group Screwball) was chosen, since it's not like Screwball were ever critical darlings or anything (their DJ Premier-produced "F.A.Y.B.A.N. still fucking knocks, though), and while Hostyle sounds like he's running out of breath with every syllable that leave his lips, the song is pretty good anyway.

8. HEART OF THE ASSASSIN (CHACE INFINITE, KRONDON, PHENAM, & RAS KASS)
A posse cut that featuers rappers whose names were drawn from a hat. Chace Infinite (from Self-Scientific) and Krondon (from Strong Arm Steady, who work frequently with the likes of Talib Kweli these days) come off okay, and Phenam (Lord knows who the fuck he is) sounds like shit, but the real winner here is cameo king Rassy Kassy, whose verse is way too short. If Ras Kass were to somehow get a budget, this would be the type of beat he should procure for himself: if he did just that, I wouldn't complain nearly as much. Oh, and B-Real (of Cypress Hill) appears to spit a ridiculous hook that has no place on any song, much less this one.

9. SUCKERS ARE HIDIN' (DILATED PEOPLES)
I never cared for Dilated Peoples. I can't pinpoint exactly why, but it has something to do with Evidence's voice: I always thought he came off as a gravelly-voiced pretentious ass. (And yet I like Chali 2na from Jurassic 5. Go figure.) I bought their album The Platform essentially based off of the collaborations they did with a lot of West Coast luminaries, and that was the last time I bought a CD without ever hearing anything first. (Makes me wish there were blogs like this back then.) Anyway, at least Al Maman's beat is good.

10. WHEN THE PAIN INFLICT (KURUPT & ROSCOE)
Snoop Dogg makes an uncredited cameo, as does Daz from Tha Dogg Pound, Kurupt's day job. This Wild West-themed track also features Kurupt's little brother Roscoe, who I thought made his living making curse-free gangsta rap songs for children and their grandmothers to ride to, but spits like a foulmouthed sailor on this. Kurupt should probably try to get some Muggs production on his solo albums as well, since he acquits himself nicely on his second appearance on the disc.

11. DON'T TRIP (CYPRESS HILL)
You don't really need to hear this one.

12. RAZOR TO YOUR THROAT (EVERLAST)
Pretty creative to use a Rza vocal sample in a song that features the word "razor" in its title. Muggs and Everlast (late of House of Pain and his racist cop character on Prince Paul's A Prince Among Thieves) have made beautiful music together in the past. "Past" being the operative word.

13. MILLENIUM THRUST (SELF-SCIENTIFIC)
As I mentioned above, this song wasn't on the first version of Soul Assassins II that I heard, so probably because of that fact alone, it doesn't sound like it belongs on the album, since DJ Khalil's production sounds downright positive and inspiring in comparison. However, the song as a whole isn't very good, so it turns out I wasn't missing much with my promotional copy.

The following is included as a bonus track on international pressings of Soul Assassins II:

14. BACK UP OFF ME (BUC FIFTY)
Alchemist provides the instrumental for the international bonus track, which features not a rapper from Canada or Europe but some guy from Los Angeles, who sounds decent enough anyway. The real surprise here, though, is the bouncier remixed version of Gza/Genius's "When The Fat Lady Sings" that comes on after "Back Up Off Me" finishes: this fitter. happier version works so much better than the bland original.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Soul Assassins II is one of those albums that flew under the radar, and I would be surprised if you two readers have even heard of it. It's always nice to find an album that nobody really knows about and discover some really good music, though, so this was a pleasant surprise, both in 2000 and today, since a lot of it still holds up. It's almost enough to make you start petitioning Muggs for a third chapter in the saga. (Personally, I can wait for Chapter III if Muggs promises to finally release that collaborative album he recorded with Inspectah Deck before he worked on Grandmasters with Gza/Genius. Deck needs some shine, man!)

BUY OR BURN? By all means, pick this shit up. You won't miss those three dollars that you'll spend since this can be bought for cheap online. While you're at it, if you haven't already done so, you may as well pick up the first album too (the link to the original review for Chapter 1 is below). Unwrap the plastic, dim the lights, bring out whatever drugs are the flavor of your day, and enjoy.

BEST TRACKS: "You Better Believe It"; "Armageddon (Interlude)"; "Heart of The Assassin"; "When The Pain Inflict"; "Victory & Defeat"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
DJ Muggs - Soul Assassins: Chapter 1
Cypress Hill - Cypress Hill

4 comments:

  1. Good album, nothing special.
    I like the beat on the G Rap joint tho

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  2. buc fifty and buckwheat that featured on pharcydes debut is the same guy right?

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  3. Same guy. Good ear. if I had heard Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde sometime within the past ten years, I may have caught that. Thanks for pointing that out.

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  4. complexoneMarch 14, 2008

    Good read. But damn you dont like ALOT of shit homie

    ReplyDelete