Review Summary: Close to perfection but lacking complete cohesion.
My brother and friend used to say the only ingredients needed for a Jedi Mind Tricks were, a good beat, Jesus, faggots and drinking cop’s blood. They even went so far one time as to have a sample of a woman saying faggot in what I believe was Hindi or Punjabi in the background.
Lyrically this is a step away from that into more intelligent and creative territory. Vinnie Paz (The Verbal Hologram) is still as angry and violent as ever with his gravely voice but he is much more focused with his fury. While the lyrics are still quite violent it is possible to see the humor the group possesses. One could never fault JMT with having weak beats; unsurprisingly Stoupe (The Enemy of Mankind) still brings the excellent production in sound and powerful drum kicks laden with vocal samples and scratching. There are still the excellent customary musical interludes dispersed between songs which no JMT album would be complete without.
As with every other JMT album I’ve heard the album kicks off with a spoken word sample over music that sets the tone for the album. “Put ‘Em in the Grave” is pretty standard JMT fare with the hook using samples from Jay-Z and Prodigy (Mobb Deep).
“Suicide” uses a beautiful Flamenco style guitar melody to carry the song under Paz’s lyrics which run the gamut from lost love, police, religion and clichés in rap.
“Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story” taken from the 1983 film of the same name is one of the best tracks presented on this album. Stoupe cuts back on his usual sample filled production to bring out the menace of war in the jungle with a simple wailing female vocal sample and drum beats. Vinnie and guest R.A. the Rugged Man present two sides of the same story, both from the viewpoint of a soldier. Vinnie’s lyrics focus on anti-war and not wanting to be in Vietnam due to the horrors of the death and destruction the soldiers had to deal with. R.A. spits monotone rapid fire lyrics about the enjoyment that some soldiers undoubtedly had being in conflict. ‘Bitches and guns, this is every man's dream/I don't want to go home, where I'm just a ordinary human being’, he later recounts a chopper crash, losing friends and the effects of Agent Orange on his children. His lyrics are inspired by an actual vet Sgt. John A. Thorburn, his father. It’s not a preachy story telling you what to think but just a perspective from both sides of an experience. If R.A. and his father were not part of this song it would not have been as incredible as it is.
“When All Light Dies” is another excellent song focusing on Paz’s life, faith in his religion and his friends. Many of the songs are very introspective and personal coming from what is usually heard from JMT. On “Serenity in Murder” Vinnie analyzes himself and his relationship with people around him. One verse he name drops Calculating Infinity by Dillinger Escape Plan, I couldn’t help but smile when I heard that since it shows more of his musical influences.
There are also songs that attack larger social problems with skill and intelligence. “Shadow Business” speaks out about the condition of slave laborers and the injustice that is done to them so that we are afforded cheap products and why nothing is done to fix the situation. The mistreatment of women in the workplace and low education are also discussed. It’s a refreshing track and does not come off as preachy; Paz just calls it like he sees it.
“Razorblade Salvation” is the most introspective and self analytical song I’ve ever heard Paz and Stoupe write. Shara Worden provides the superb chorus which ties the song together completely. Vinnie reflects on his family and friends and mistakes he’s made in the past. He also contemplates on the pain he feels when he thinks about lost family. Listening to Vinnie shows the vulnerability and insecurity he has when dealing with personal issues. It is easily one of the best songs on the album. “Black Winter Day” almost matches it in terms of emotional and lyrical content but “Razorblade Salvation” wins out.
With this record, JMT have produced one of the best albums of their career. Stoupe is a criminally underrated producer, almost to the level I used to feel Dj Premier was. Vinnie's at times, incredibly violent lyrics will be a turn off to some listeners but it comes with the territory in this type of music. Some tracks don't quite match the power and energy that others do which detracts from the overall flow. Introspective and broad reaching, excellent vocals, lyrics and music production; this is what they are truly capable of when they really want to put their minds to an idea.
Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story
Heavy Metal Kings
Black Winter Day
For anyone who wants to read the interview with R.A. about his father and the song.