One of the better aspects of running this blog is that I get to arbitrarily decide what is and isn't included on my "finish what I started" project list. You see, not every single artist in the sidebar is going to see their entire catalog written up on these electronic pages: that would be fucking insane, and this shit would never end. But while some of the choices are really easy to make (there is no way I'm going to continue Lil' Wayne's discography, if only because his massive number of mixtapes alone will destroy my psyche), others aren't quite so cut-and-dry. It was only while writing this paragraph that I realized that I hadn't reviewed anything from the Philadelphia-based group Jedi Mind Tricks in nearly six years. Six fucking years. Which should make it obvious how much I care about them at any given time. But until I make a final decision, we may as well keep up this charade.
During the three years that passed after releasing their sophomore effort, Violent By Design, rapper Vinnie Paz and producer Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind (his name as it appears on his purple Amex card) saw their group undergo several changes. Jus Allah, best known as "the other rapper in Jedi Mind Tricks", bailed on the group (albeit on good terms, although that doesn't mean anything in the music industry), reducing them down to a duo, albeit the duo most people associate Jedi Mind Tricks with being in the first place. Since Vinnie had used the previous years both solidifying his association with the hip hop supergroup Army Of The Pharoahs (which featured a lot of other Philadelphia-based acts, among others), along with making new connections within our chosen genre, it's not like he would ever have to carry an entire album on his own unless he wanted to anyway. Depending on how much you like Vinnie's work, that could make or break a project for you, but that's your problem.
The first two Jedi projects, the aforementioned Violent By Design and their debut, Too Many Words For A Single Fucking Album Title, caught the ears of many within the industry, and the duo soon found themselves being courted by actual labels. They settled for major/minor Babygrande, and shuttered their own label in favor of a larger budget and some actual marketing. Stoupe, in particular, capitalized on the new arrangement by drawing upon more samples than ever before, since Babygrande could most likely get them cleared: what resulted was a newer, more polished sound for the Jedi's third album, Visions Of Ghandi, one with much more of a Latin twist than what the fans had expected. While that's a nice change of pace, it does distract from the otherwise dark and ominous instrumentals Stoupe is renowned for.
Vinnie also took action, setting up meet-and-greets with his industry friends and using Babygrande's money to secure guest spots from not just fellow Pharoahs, but also people you've actually heard of, such as Ras Kass, Kool G. Rap, and Canibus (who Stoupe already had a working relationship with). But aside from having deeper pockets to work from, the Jedis kept Visions Of Ghandi business as usual, filling it with the quasi-religious psychobabble and violent-to-the-point-of-ridiculous imagery you've come to expect from Vinnie Paz. Vinnie also gave the album its title, having been influenced by, get this, a line from a Foxy Brown verse on Nas's "Affirmative Action". Which is kind of funny, but I'm not jumping all over myself to claim Vinnie Paz has a sense of humor just yet.
So, about Visions Of Ghandi.
Pretentious rap album intro with ominous musical backing film dialogue that allegedly sets the tone for the entire project but will merely cause the listener to roll their eyes in annoyance? Check!
2. TIBETAN BLACK MAGICIANS (FEAT. CANIBUS)
If you ever need to kick off a Jedi Mind Tricks album with an artist that sounds more obnoxious than Vinnie Paz, you can't do worse than motherfucking Canibus. Germaine and Vinnie share both verses, filling them with inane wordplay, untenable threats, irredeemable boasts, and Canibus even manages to sneak in a stealth LL Cool J did, because that motherfucker refuses to ever admit that he fucking lost that battle. For his part, Vinnie strings together catchphrases and passes them off as verses, sounding unconvincing over an atypically frustrating Stoupe instrumental that should have knocked much harder than it did. A poor start.
3. BLOOD IN BLOOD OUT
It is possible to overdose on film dialogue samples, folks: the interlude that opens “Blood In Blood Out” (which, weirdly, was not taken from the epic Blood In Blood Out: Bound By Honor) allegedly helps form a loose narrative theme for Visions Of Ghandi but sounds so goddamn pretentious that it almost encourages the listener to shut it off and, instead, use the compact disc as a part of an craft project. The song hiding behind that stupid fucking interlude is actually pretty good, though: Stoupe's beat is bouncy and damn near charming, clashing with the darker frame of reference Visions Of Ghandi bathes in, and Vinnie's verses, while delivered in the same fashion they always are, sound really goddamn good on top of this whimsical backdrop. Huh.
4. THE RAGE OF ANGELS (FEAT. CRYPT THE WARCHILD)
Although I still think it sounded alright today, Stoupe's instrumental comes across more like a generic Fort Minor beat than I had remembered, and the vocal sample during the hook didn't do much to argue against the comparison. Vinnie Paz and guest star Crypt The Warchild (of Outerspace) manage their verses just fine, tackling the trope of “rest in peace, I'll hold you down until it's my time to go” in a fairly competent manner, and Vinnie, specifically, doesn't sound like a dick: his verse seems quite heartfelt. Interesting, but also annoying at the same time, which is a terrible combination.
5. DEMONWOMB INTERLUDE
6. ANIMAL RAP (FEAT. KOOL G. RAP)
Kool G. Rap has slowly mutated into the David Koechner or the John Michael Higgins of hip hop: he works steadily on other people's projects, hardly ever on his own, and he will work with fucking anybody just to get the money to put food on his table. It's sad to think that one of your favorite rapper's favorite rapper isn't as successful or popular within our chosen genre as they deserve to be. It's also fairly impossible to imagine that Kool G. Rap sits around listening to Jedi Mind Tricks albums, so everything about the collaboration that is “Animal Rap” feels artificial. The actual rhymes are alright: hell, one of Vinnie's actually made me laugh (“Chain hang down to my dick, I'm that gaudy” (italics mine)). Still, kind of hollow.
7. NADA CAMBIA
This is probably the blowback from some of the more recent previous posts talking, but nowadays, whenever I hear any artists drawing from the homophobic well, I consider it to be lazy writing. Vinnie Paz resorts to three such references on “Nada Cambia” when only one, if any, was absolutely necessary, tainting the song in the eyes of progressive hip hop heads that just want to hear skillful rhyming. Stoupe's instrumental doesn't fit Jedi Mind Tricks at all, which makes it somewhat interesting, with the Latin-flavored guitars underlining all of Vinnie's vague threats, but the verses stomp the shit out of the track and leave its remains for the wolves to pick at. Also, the fuck was up with the long-ass song intro? You don't need to set the mood every single goddamn time, guys.
8. A STORM OF SWORDS (FEAT. PLANETARY)
That hook, man...that hook ruins the entire fucking song. That's all I got.
9. BOONDOCK SAINTS INTERLUDE
The Boondock Saints is one of the most overrated films of the past thirty years. No bullshit. You shouldn't be able to replace emotion and depth with faux-religious symbolism and Tarantino-esque gunplay and expect a cult following. I just don't get it. And yeah, I realize I probably just lost a lot of you, but so be it. I do like the guy who went on to do The Walking Dead, though. I get that Stoupe probably chose this flick because of a personal preference, but still, wrong horse to bet on, dude.
10. THE WOLF (FEAT. ILL BILL & SABAC RED)
Vinnie and Stoupe look slightly outside of their extended Army Of The Pharoahs family for “The Wolf”, a collaboration between the Jedi Mind Tricks and two members of the now-defunct group Non-Phixion, Ill Bill and Sabac Red. To celebrate the occasion, Stoupe produces a beat that sounds as dramatic as a chase sequence in a 1980's gritty cop flick, and Vinnie, Billiam, and Sabac all hop over fences and duck behind dumpsters to avoid helicopter searchlights with ease. Vinnie's game is elevated somewhat, as he directly competes with his guests, and the end result is a fucking winner in my book. This shit was nice.
11. WALK WITH ME (FEAT. PERCEE P)
I think I just finally got why Visions Of Ghandi has such a heavy Latin influence in its music: Stoupe was bored as shit of being a part of Jedi Mind Tricks and just hadn't yet realized it. So he crafted beats that sounded peppy, such as that of “Walk With Me”, and watched unflinchingly as his partner Vinnie Paz shat all over it with generic threats and thug posturing. If you move forward through the track very slowly, you can almost pinpoint the exact moment where Stoupe's heart was broken. Anyway, save for Vinnie, this song wasn't all bad: Percee P's guest verse fit the proceedings much more convincingly. Kind of wish the song was all Percee. Oh well.
12. RISE OF THE MACHINES (FEAT. RAS KASS)
One of the standard complaints levied against Rassy Kassy's body of work is that, while he has very few peers lyrically, his ear for beats was crafted by the hands of a mad doctor who didn't believe in this newfangled “music” fad. So what happens when he is paired up with Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind, who is generally considered to be a good producer? Interestingly, not all that much: “Rise Of The Machines” is much more relaxed than any track with that title has a right to be, and Rassy excels over hard instrumentals that threaten the muscle strength in your neck. So, weirdly, this song sucked, and not even just because of Vinnie Paz's opening verse, which isn't bad but also isn't great. Ras Kass walks away with immunity, though, so I can't vote him off the blog just yet.
13. PITY OF WAR INTERLUDE
14. KUBLAI KHAN (FEAT. GORETEX & TRAGEDY KHADAFI)
Proves that every song on Visions Of Ghandi should have been a collaboration, as a little Vinnie Paz truly does go a long way. On “Kublai Khan”, Stoupe returns to harder beats, crafting an instrumental conducive to a meeting of the minds, and Vinnie, Goretex, and (especially) hip hop veteran Tragedy Khadafi proceed to spit fire. Tragedy still sounds stuck in his second life as the third member of the duo Capone-N-Noreaga (no, that wasn't a typo), after using up his first wish to become a member of Marley Marl's Juice Crew, but I like the modern-era Tragedy, so I can't complain. I'm pretty okay with this song, too.
15. WHAT'S REALLY GOOD (FEAT. ROCKY RAEZ)
Not this, that's what.
16. THE HEART OF DARKNESS INTERLUDE
Still with these, Stoupe?
17. RAW IS WAR 2003
Stopue's decision to play the vocal samples within the “Raw Is War 2003” beat at the same volume as Vinnie Paz's actual bars is mind-numbingly ridiculous: it's almost as though he were deliberately sabotaging the project. Not that it really matters, anyway: the beat is fairly forgettable aside from that bit of weirdness, and Vinnie's verses are all of the “Max could really give a shit” variety, so who really gives a shit? A particularly lazy way to end Visions Of Ghandi, if this really were the end, anyway.
“Raw Is War 2003” contains three additional hidden bonus tracks that aren't all that well hidden if you're the type of listener that pays attention to how long tracks happen to be.
I AGAINST I REVISITED (FEAT. OUTERSPACE)
The first hidden bonus track kicks in at about the five minute and ten-second mark. “I Against I Revisited” features both halves of Outerspace (Planetary and Crypt The Warchild) and takes place over a calming Stoupe creation that isn't bad at all. The song is a reimagining of the Violent By Design song “I Against I”, which originally only featured Planetary; this new take swaps out a Jus Allah verse for Crypt's, while the other contributions are exactly the same. Not bad for what it is, but yeah, it would have made no sense for this to have appeared on the proper album.
ANIMAL RAP (MICKY WARD MIX) (FEAT. KOOL G. RAP)
Starting immediately after the last song, this remix to “Animal Rap” is the exact same song as the original from earlier, albeit with a different, shittier beat that at least stops pretending that this collaboration was supposed to be epic or something. Moving on...
THE ARMY (FEAT. ESOTERIC & KING SYZE)
Over a beat that comes across as an alternate take of the music from “Walk With Me”, Vinnie Paz and two of his Army Of The Pharoahs brethren, King Syze and Boston's own Esoteric, unleash verse after verse in an attempt to wake up the audience that believed that Visions Of Ghandi had ended long ago. Only Eso and Vinnie seem to be engaged: Syze sounds like he's about to crash out in the booth because his newborn kept crying the night before and all he can think about is a soft pillow and he also has low blood sugar and look, he's just tired, okay? This is a bonus track for a very good reason, folks. And now I'm done.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Your mileage out of Visions Of Ghandi will vary, depending solely on if you give a shit about the brand of hip hop Vinnie and Stoupe bring to the table. Jedi Mind Tricks are a fairly polarizing act: while most people can get behind the beats (some of which are quite good on here, but none of them will make you tear your ears off of your head in an ill-advised attempt to never have to listen to anything else ever again because there's no way this perfection can be topped or anything), Vinnie Paz's rhymes are a like-them-or-loathe-them affair, and you all know what side I fall on. Still, I can acknowledge when a Jedi Mind Tricks song works, so there are a handful of tracks that are worth hunting down, but if you're not a fan of the duo, Visions Of Ghandi is no gateway drug, and if you're already a fan, there's no fucking way you don't already have this in your possession. Hell, you probably have the disc in your hand (or the album loaded up on your iPod), ready to give specific examples to contradict my review. Which is a lot of effort to put in for an album that won't do as much for you as you may do for it. In short, move along, folks.
BUY OR BURN? There are more misses than hits on here, so a burn is more than sufficient.
BEST TRACKS: “The Wolf”; “Blood In Blood Out”; “Kublai Khan”
There's a bit more Jedi Mind Tricks stuff to be found here.