(Apparently I'm sticking with a collaborative theme this week. Today's Reader Review comes from Rex, who shines some light on producer Marco Polo's joint album with Duck Down stalwart Ruste Juxx, The eXXecution. Leave some notes for Rex below.)
In today's burgeoning underground scene, there has been a surge of new producers who have labeled as throwbacks to an earlier era, one filled with dusty drums, scratched-in hooks, and head-nod appeal. One such producer is Marco Polo, a Brooklyn transplant by way of Toronto who has created some of the best beats of the past three years for some of hip hop's underground royalty, such as Large Professor, O.C., A.G., the entire Boot Camp Clik, Bumpy Knuckles, Masta Ace, Kool G Rap, KRS-One, Pharaohe Monch, Torae, Copywrite, Skyzoo, R.A. the Rugged Man, and Immortal Technique. Yep, this guy has quite the resume, and with two strong projects of his own already under his belt (Port Authority and Double Barrel, a collaboration with Torae), anticipation for the subject of today's post, The eXXecution,was running fairly high.
But what about the other guy on the album? Ruste Juxx (pronounced Rusty Jooks) has been an also-ran of the Boot Camp Clik (and, more specifically, Heltah Skeltah's Sean Price, the artist formerly known as Ruck), for a good decade now, without ever having made a name for himself. After appearing on Sean P's mixtapes, Heltah Skeltah's early albums, and even managing to release his own street album (conveniently hosted by Sean), Ruste Juxx was still a relatively unknown artist. The fact that Marco Polo was willing to work extensively with an artist who had underwhelmed audiences for a good decade says a lot about Marco's ear for an emcee (although that comes across as a dis, I must acknowledge, once again, the sheer number of hip hop legends the man has worked with in the past).
Either that, or Ruste Juxx has been holding out on us.
I had no idea what to expect from The eXXecution, but I was still overly cautious with the project, as I absolutely hate it when amazing instrumentals get wasted on subpar rappers. (Although DJ Premier's work on Group Home's Livin' Proof immediately comes to mind, there are actually a lot of Primo beats that have been overall wastes thanks to the level of talent involved.) Upon its release, The eXXecution surprisingly received enough mainstream attention that it received a score of 85 on Metacritic (of all places).
So without further ado...
1. THE EXXECUTION INTRO
Marco Polo instantly ropes in the listener with a potent combination of a wailing horn, some hard drums, and piano keys that belong in a horror movie, evoking the perfect atmosphere for an album titled The eXXecution. Ruste Juxx doesn't disappoint either, getting in some very funny lines, gruff threats and boisterous gangster posturing; Ruck must have been tutoring him or something. What elevated this great track to even higher levels was the expert scratching, provided by DJ Revolution, who really kills it. A perfect start.
2. DEATH PENALTY
This was unexpected. Marco uses some hard drums and Asian strings to create a high-paced track that matches well with Ruste's enthusiasm. While the instrumental holds up well, Ruste does not, as he already seems to be both tired and out of ideas. He doesn't ruin the track completely, though, mainly because DJ Revolution steps in with another scratched-in hook that is technically perfect, raising the song up by a few pegs.
The first complete misfire of The eXXecution. Ruste Juxx turns in an awful performance, with lazy-sounding verses and a fucking terrible hook, but what's infinitely more shocking is that the beat sucks. The overly simplistic drums and keys that rarely switch up cause this track to sound uninteresting. Skip.
4. TAKE MONEY (FEAT. ROCK & BUMPY KNUCKLES)
A marked improvement. Marco Polo comes back much more inspired, crafting a cartoon-like beat that has snappy keys, a punctual horn, and a strong drum/snare combination that sets the track up well for all three rappers to justify their paychecks. While Heltah Skeltah's Rock doesn't remake the wheel, he remains serviceable, but Freddie Foxxx and Ruste really click with the beat, both managing great lines and effortless flows. A nice beat on the outro helps set up the next track.
5. I AM ON IT
Remember how I said “Rearview” was bad because of how simplistic it was? I believe the opposite for this song. While the instrumental is grating, it does sound much better suited to its guitar-strumming, quirky drumming, and occasional horn-playing, making this a pleasant-enough song. Of course, Ruste doesn't do anything pleasant with the beat, although he does get in some hilarious one-liners about Velveeta shells, Twitter, and The Boondocks. Garbage hook aside, this track was decent.
6. LET'S TAKE A SEC (FEAT. BLACK MOON)
Following a funny intro and scratch from DJ Evil Dee, Ruste and Buckshot wax nostalgic about coming up in the rap game and their love for our chosen genre. Nothing groundbreaking, but neither man sounds cliché; in fact, they're rather refreshing. Polo's beat perfectly complements the verses with a holy aura evoked by a crooning voice, or something, that goes well with the hard drums, strings and snares. Garbage hook aside, this was great.
7. BREAD ON YA HEAD
Following some cheesy sampled dialogue, we get to hear Ruste Juxx talk about how great he is at both killing and rapping. The chorus (which, like most of the other choruses on The eXXecution, is trash) at least keeps with the song's overall goofy theme. Marco's beat doesn't help, either, with some stuttering drums and a horn sample that can hardly be heard in the background. Skip.
8. WINGS ON YOUR BACK (FEAT. SEAN PRICE)
This track has become a favorite of mine with good reason. You get what might be one of Marco Polo's best beats, with all the elements combining seamlessly, meshing perfectly with Ruste's lyrics, which are an improvement over much of the rest of the album. Add in Sean P's ad-libbing, and you have a great track right here.
Marco serves up another peculiar creation with some rapid-fire keys and some pretty decent drums. To add to the good news, Ruste Juxx comes through with his first actual good hook (and a couple of decent verses) that makes “Nobody” the first complete song in probably his entire career.
10. FUCKIN WIT A GANGSTER (FEAT, SEAN PRICE)
For obvious reasons, this was the first song I listened to when I got The eXXecution, and I was happy as fuck with it. Marco Polo sounds inspired here, creating a sort of reggae/Caribbean style beat with the way the drum stops and starts. Ruste, trying to appease his master, comes through with a couple of strong verses and a shitty hook that still manages to get me really hype, so that was a plus. But the best part of the somg for me by far is Sean P: the unofficial king of the underground comes through with a performance that combines all of his usual tendencies (trash talking, word play, ignorance, and talking up himself as a beast on the mic), and it doesn't let you down at all.
11. WATCH YO STEP
Polo comes through with one of his best instrumentals, and Ruste writes a decent hook around it, which always bodes well when you're listening to an artist who can actually write, as Ruste Juxx can (some of the time, anyway). While any song being placed after “Fuckin Wit a Gangster” is bound to be a comedown from an incredible high, this song tries its best, and it doesn't disappoint.
12. YOU CAN'T STOP ME
Sequencing on an album is important. The fact that they placed “You Can't Stop Me” as the last song on The eXXecution is appropriate, as it is the most sobering song on the album, finding Ruste touching on a lot of the problems he has witnessed in society. Marco's beat backs the topic up very well, coming across almost as a eulogy of sorts. Ruste really shines on here, though, proving that he knows how to write a song; his efforts on here help end the album on a high point.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Coming away from The eXXecution, I more or less got exactly what I wanted: instrumentals that take you back to a better time, an artist that manages flashes of greatness, and some pretty good guest appearances. What surprised me was how far Ruste Juxx has come as a rapper and a writer, mixing humor with violence almost as well as his mentor Sean Price, after being an afterthought for so many years. Although Marco Polo did what he does best, he seemed distracted at times, and it's fairly obvious to me that he had no intention of giving Ruste Juxx his better beats, although he still provided an ample amount of heat for his collaborator. Regardless, The eXxecution was a win for the pair, and it also bodes well for Sean P's ability to nurture an aspiring emcee.
BUY OR BURN?: This is a buy in my book, but if you're not a fan of Sean Price and his ilk, you'll probably disagree with me.
BEST TRACKS: “The eXXecution Intro”; “Let's Take a Sec”; “Wings on Your Back”; “Fuckin Wit a Gangster”; “You Can't Stop Me “
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave them below.)