Troll Hunter (2010, André Øvredal)

 Troll Hunter (2010, André Øvredal)I honestly don’t know that many movies with trolls as the main character or monster. I’d even say that besides Troll Hunter the only other such movies I’ve ever seen are probably only the aptly-named Troll and its sequel, the first one of which is probably best remembered for the name of its main character, i.e. Harry Potter (Jr). Or that’s about all I remember about it, anyway, as it wasn’t that good. So can Troll Hunter finally give trolls their fifteen minutes of fame?

Troll Hunter is a Norwegian found footage-movie about three students making a student movie about who’s been illegaly shooting bears throughout Norway. Their search quickly leads them to Hans, a loner who they suspect to be the poacher. At first Hans isn’t very forthcoming and doesn’t want to cooperate but after they’ve shared a dangerous encounter during which one of them got hurt, Hans agrees to be in their movie. He tells them he isn’t hunting bears, though, he’s hunting trolls. It turns out the Norwegian government wants the existence of trolls to be kept quiet but Hans, looking for more recognition and rewards, is willing to blow the lid. The students remain sceptical but keep following and filming Hans nevertheless.

The problem with found footage-movies, I find, is that you already know how things are going to end, obviously. Nothing good is going to happen, otherwise they would not have lost this – usually amazing – footage somewhere for someone else to find. In the case of The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity or even Cloverfield, it kind of works as there aren’t really any other parties that are directly involved which could be asked for accountability or even some simple clarification. This is not the case with Troll Hunter, however, as the government is involved. Without giving all too much away, simply denying they have any knowledge of this particular case, would prove rather difficult in real life, I would think.

That however would be one of Troll Hunter’s only (minor) faults. The effects are simply spectacular. It’s no secret that I’m no fan of CGI-monsters. I think that even now, 20 years after Jurassic Park, most film makers still don’t know how to effectively use CGI. As a result the creatures usually look fake and don’t blend in with the action. I yearn for Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to become as popular again as they once used to be. In short, CGI, I don’t like it. But. The crew behind Troll Hunter have managed to seemingly seamlessly blend their creatures with their real footage which makes for some of the most awesome action sequences I’ve seen in a while. It does help of course that this is found footage, so not perfectly framed or lighted, that a lot of the time the creatures are only seen in night vision shots and so on, but what matters to me is that when you see it, you don’t immediately feel that what you’re seeing is fake.

The story is a fun one with some very nice art design and locations. The deserted Norwegian countryside with its vast lakes and mountains all covered in snow are simply beautiful. Hans the troll hunter’s vehicle and trailer certainly reflect his character and his troll drawings and “memorabilia” are very nicely done. Hans is by far the most interesting character, by the way. The students are okay but forgettable, never becoming obnoxious but just there to move the story along mostly. Troll Hunter does presuppose a certain degree of troll knowledge, however. I’m rather sure that the legend of the troll is far better known in Scandinavia than in most other countries (they did bother to make a movie about it, after all) and although I’ve heard about the relationship between trolls and bridges or between trolls and Christians, I did at times feel that I wasn’t really getting certain scenes because of my not knowing quite enough about troll lore. This only happened on 2 or 3 occasions throughout the movie, though, so it’s not like you have to be an expert in the field.

You do have to get past the fact that this is not, in my opinion, a horror movie. It does not set out to scare you. It is rather a fantasy movie in that it tells you a lot about trolls, which are – be it due to circumstances or not – rather unpleasant creatures according to the filmmakers at work here. There are some very spectacular action scenes but no real scare moments. There is quite a bit of bloodshed, though – bears and sheep do get killed – so I wouldn’t automatically recommend it to children but if they’re old enough to watch The Lord Of The Rings, then Troll Hunter shouldn’t be a problem either.

So yes, Troll Hunter is a movie that should please both found footage-fans and creature movie-afficionados. Give it a try, you’ll probably like it.

Blood Dolls (1999, Charles Band)

Blood Dolls (1999, Charles Band)Blood Dolls is arguably one of the movies Charles Band was most involved in, seeing that short from starring in it, he’s the writer, director, producer and – through his company Full Moon Features – also the distributor of this picture. Band’s different production and distribution companies have been churning out movies since the early 70’s, the short-lived Empire Productions probably being the most successful one with releases such as Ghoulies and of course Re-Animator.

Blood Dolls was released by Full Moon Features, though, Band’s successor of sorts to Empire Pictures. You might know them from their seemingly endless Puppet Master franchise, currently at number X for ten. So if you’re looking for a movie about killer dolls, you could probably do worse than going with one from Band’s stable.

On to the movie itself, then. Now, let me start by saying that the dolls themselves are rather poor. Design-wise you could still say they look okay but the stop-motion animation used here, is maybe the worst I’ve ever seen. It is bad, very bad. There’s almost 15 years between Ghoulies and Blood Dolls but Ghoulies’ animation – which was already questionable at the time – has got this beat hands down. I suppose you’re wondering then why you should watch a movie about killer dolls if said dolls kind of suck?

The story, maybe? Well, it’s entertaining but not exactly earth-shatteringly original either. Virgil Travis, an eccentric multi-million dollar entrepreneur, is standing on the verge of bankruptcy and vows revenge on those he believes responsible. He therefore creates the dolls who – assisted by Mr. Mascaro, Travis’ right hand man – go out and kill whoever Travis tells them to. Like I said, nothing special there. What does really save this movie then are its characters. Not the dolls, though. Those are easily the most forgettable characters in the movie. There are three dolls, all early victims of Travis’ who instead of being killed were transformed into dolls under his command. You only get to witness the transformation of the third and last doll, Travis’ asian lawyer who didn’t quite pass the bar. She’s transformed into a geisha-like doll. I guess this kind of makes sense with her having been asian. It does make you wonder about the two previous victims, though. Travis tells us they used to be a judge and a district attorney so one might presume they at the very least looked reasonably respectable. Their doll counterparts, however, are a black pimp doll and a testosterone-fueled skinhead doll. Why does he stop transforming people after the third doll? I don’t know and it’s not explained either. It does look as if a lot of electricity is involved in the transformation process and with Travis being as good as broke, that might be the reason. The dolls don’t talk but can make little noises and have small weapons. The geisha has blades, the pimp has guns and the skinhead has knives. The way in which they execute the killings is rather unimaginative, largely due no doubt to the very limited amount of actions they can have the dolls perform. There are a couple of scenes in which the dolls are not or only incidentally involved in the murders and these are far better, actually.

But enough with the doll-bashing, what is good about this movie, then? Believe it or not, it’s actually the characters performed by the real-live actors. In most other movies of this calibre it’s usually the actors’ lamentable performances that take away from the experience but not in the case of Blood Dolls. Don’t get me wrong, these are far from Oscar-worthy performances but almost without exception all of Blood Dolls’ characters are fun and interesting and convinvingly portrayed by the cast. There’s Travis himself, who’s never seen without his mask. Mr. Mascaro with the clown make-up and the razor-sharp teeth and Hylas, the midget masochistic butler. (As is not entirely unusual with Full Moon productions, there is a link here to some of their other movies with Full Moon enthusiasts possibly recognizing Mr. Mascaro as a human version of the Jack Attack-doll, starring in e.g. Demonic Toys.) There are Harrison and Moira Yulin, Travis’ strongest competitors with a penchant for sadomasochism which makes for an interesting relationship. And last but far from least there’s the all-female, all-leather rock band Travis keeps locked up in his mansion for his entertainment. All of these characters are a joy to get to know and it’s only after the entire cast has been good and well introduced about halfway through that the movie begins to sag. Travis begins to do some soul searching, there’s talk of romance and existentialism, all of which really interrupts the flow of the movie. Fortunately the pace does pick up again near the end, though.

One final thing to discuss is the music. As I already mentioned, Travis has imprisoned a rock band that acts as a primitive form of music on demand. How it works is, Travis will shout out a track number and the girls then have to play that particular number. If they don’t react fast enough, the butler quite literally shocks them into action. They play a number of songs throughout the movie, all of them surprisingly good. Supposedly, Band had the idea of touring with the band if it proved popular enough but unfortunately nothing ever came of it. There wasn’t even a soundtrack album released which is a shame, really.

So there you have it. To sum up, I wouldn’t go out of my way to try and pick up a copy but if you happen to find it for an okay price, you might be pleasantly surprised with the okay story, some awesome characters and a fun soundtrack. Don’t watch it for the dolls, though.

RiFF RaFF – Birth of an Icon – 5.6/10

RiFF RaFF - Birth of an IconThere are two different sides to RiFF RaFF aka. Jody Highroller.  On the one hand the former G’s to Gents contestant is that guy sporting MTV, BET and Bart Simpson tattoos, along with a jewelry selection that could make Ghostface shake his head in disbelief, whose look inspired James Franco’s character in the movie Spring Breakers and is part of a rap collective called Three Loco, along with comedians Andy Milonakis and Simon Rex.  On the flipside he’s well connected, able to count on producers Harry Fraud, Dame Grease and Diplo amongst his beat suppliers and having collaborated with respected rappers like Action Bronson, Meyhem Lauren, A$AP Rocky and Earl Sweatshirt.  Somewhere in his past there’s also an alleged affiliation with Swishahouse head honcho OG Ron C.

It’s tough to tell if he’s a new version of Ali G that the world hasn’t quite caught on to yet or if he really means it, maaan.

Either way, he does have an undeniable work ethic, having shot and released an insane amount of videos accompanying his prolific musical output.  Those videos are a big part of the hype RiFF RaFF has been able to generate.  They’re hilarious parodies (intentional or not) of southern rap subculture, memorable for their outlandishness and overall weirdness.

http://www.youtube.com/7ohbKidZLiA

The problem is that once you disconnect the music from the visuals, a lot of entertainment value is lost in the process.  That’s a feeling you can’t quite shake when listening to the Birth of an Icon mixtape, which serves as the perfect introduction to the Jody Highroller universe.  At the same time the music does hold up better than you’d expect considering RiFF RaFF works better as a comedic character than as a mere recording artist.  Dude isn’t a lyrical marvel by any stretch of the imagination but when paired with the right talent behind the boards the results are satisfying enough to warrant a listen away from your computer screen.  The beats and hooks are catchy, in that deliberately candy coated sunshine kind of way, and you can always count on Highroller for some ridiculous one-liners to be delivered in earnestness.  There are plenty of them throughout the 25 tracks that make up this tape.  Some prime examples include: “ice on my fingers/looks like I slapboxed a penguin” (Deion Sandals) or “Shook dice with Larry Bird down in Barcelona!” (Larry Bird).  The undeniable odd couple vibe transmitting from the collabo with Chief Keef might actually be sufficient motivation to check out this record.

http://youtube/nB9au3UBSqI

It’s tough to tell what the future will hold for RiFF RaFF, it could go both ways.  At his worst he’s a continuation of LMFAO’s brand of grating party-rap.  At his best he’s a guy with an ear for a cool beat that will get stuck in your head for days on end, never trying to overshadow his more skilled cohorts on a track.  The route taken will probably depend on whether or not he manages to keep working with respected producers and emcees who are grounded firmly in rap’s vibrant underground scene or if some major label decides to seriously cash in on his pop potential and pairs him with a supporting cast that completely disconnects him his hop-hop roots.  If that happens you’ll be glad to revisit his current output so you might as well enjoy it now.

Big Daddy Kane – Prince of Darkness – 8.7/10

Big Daddy Kane - Prince of DarknessDepending on which rap congregation you belong to the order might vary but in the often discussed, rarely agreed upon, topic of which emcee is the best to ever rock the mic there is an undisputed holy trinity everyone worships: Rakim, Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane.  A strong case can be made for bestowing the title of ‘GOAT’ upon Kane.  Consider the evidence: several classic albums and songs to his name, an unparalleled flow by which all others shall be judged, the originator and master of the punchline simile and a live reputation that has held up throughout the decades.

Kane was the superstar on a label, Cold Chillin’ Records, packed with future legends like Masta Ace, Biz Markie and MC Shan (don’t forget the Kool Genius of Rap was also creating his seminal masterpieces with DJ Polo at Cold Chillin’).  His first two albums, Long Live the Kane and It’s a Big Daddy Thing, were giant leaps in hip-hop evolution but when Taste of Chocolate came out in 1990 cracks seemed to appear in what until that point had appeared to be an invincible armor.  First there was the Barry White duet, All of me, a corny love ballad that had nothing going for it other than the fact that Kane had enough pull and respect to procure the presence of the original overweight lover on his album.  Secondly there was the lackluster dance jam Keep ‘em on the Floor, an anemic pop-rap number that shouldn’t have made the album.  For a rapper who seemed to be untouchable those two missteps were enough to raise questions on whether or not King Asiatic Nobody’s Equal was slipping.

That kind of talk would only increase with Kane’s follow-up record, Prince of Darkness, unjustly dismissed at the time as a sell-out record.  Kane’s production was heavily influenced by Teddy Riley’s New Jack Swing (The lover in you and Groove with it for instance) and a lot of time was spent wooing the ladies (the title track and T.L.C.).  Doing so by complimenting the fairer sex instead of labeling them bitches and hoes has always been somewhat of a rap faux pas and gave a lot of folks the idea that Kane had gone soft.  It also didn’t help that smack dab in the middle of the album rested I’m not ashamed, another stretched out spoken word love balled but this time with no Barry White in sight.

Prince of Darkness does have it’s moments through, enough to actually suggest that it might just be Kane’s most underrated album.  Perhaps even one of the most underrated records of the nineties.  As radio friendly has some of the production might have been, there were an ample amount of tracks that showed that BDK was still a beast on the microphone very few could hang with.  He absolutely murders Git Bizzy, Death Sentence and Float, flows the hell out of Ooh, Aah, Nah-Nah-Nah (a track much doper than it’s title would suggest) and Get Down, and gives naysayers the finger on Troubled Man.  On top of that the record also features one of rap’s greatest posse cuts, Come On Down, where Q-Tip and a Dungeon Dragon-era Busta Rhymes join in on the proceedings, and the smooth trade-off between Kane and his brother Little Daddy Shane as they go back and forth on Brother, Brother.

Prince of Darkness was ahead of it’s time, a couple of years later rappers like Biggie Smalls and Big Punisher would make their mark following the formula Kane presented on his fourth album, mixing radio-friendly tracks with cuts designed for the streets and blurring the line between the two.   For Kane it spelled the end of his hip-hop supremacy though.  On 1993’s Looks like a job for…he would return completely to his tried and tested battle rap aesthetic, appearing on the cover in a hoodie instead of a three-piece suit, but unable to reconnect with his audience.

For anyone who can appreciate skill, the album is definitely worth seeking out.  It might be flawed but it’s strengths outweigh it’s weaknesses and it’s just begging to be rediscovered.

Mistah Fab – I Found My Backpack 3

Mistah Fab - I Found My Backpack 3

West Coast rapper Mistah FAB used to be signed to Mac Dre’s label Thizz Entertainment and Atlantic Records.. Apparently he is also known as a good freestyle rapper.

I discovered Mistah FAB in 2007 when he released “The Baydestrian” which to me was a very good album. That album showed a Mistah FAB that mixed meaningful deep tracks with crunk party songs. After that I kind of slept on Mistah FAB and didn’t check any new releases, but when I saw that “I found my backpack 3″ had been released I thought I’d check it out.

There are a lot of rappers with meaningful rhymes, and there are a lot of rappers that can make good music and make it sound good. But there aren’t a lot of rappers that can spit meaningful rhymes and making sound good while doing so. Mistah FAB is one of a few that can do this and is also able to mix depressing messages with party tracks and get away with it.

“I Found My Backpack 3″ starts up with a track produced by Warren G, titled “Dreams”. I’m really feeling the beat and Mistah FAB has really taken advantage of it, making a really tight track and a strong starting point for the album.

When writing this review, I was going to write more about the tracks that sticks out in a positive way, but listening to this album it’s becoming really hard… It would be easier to point out tracks that stick out in a negative aspect. I really think that “I Found My Backpack 3″ has a lot of bangers and I really think Mistah FAB has a lot of relevant topics covered here.

Even though Mistah FABs lyrics may not focus on the gangsta part of gangsta rap as much as many other West Coast rappers, he is (to me) representative for the new bay area scene and one of the top West Coast rappers as of now. FAB is bringing a new dimension to the West Coast scene and even single song on the album has got a meaning and a message, which is a pretty rare concept these days. I advise anyone to check this album out. You’ll not regret it!

Recommended tracks: Generation Lost, Back To Tha Front, We All Know Her, This Ain’t Listenin, Who U Gon Turn To? and This is what’s cool?

Shyne – Gangland – 8.3/10

Shyne - Gangland MixtapeWhat landed Jamal Barrow in jail could easily have been another ‘when keeping if real goes wrong’ sketch on the Chappelle’s Show. Everybody knows the backstory. No need to dwell on it too much: young kid gets thrust into the limelight and has to run with the ball after the untimely passing of the late great Christopher Wallace. He’s the biggest star on arguably the biggest hip-hop label at the time, Bad Boy Records, with the best in-house production team in the industry. How could this possibly go wrong? One nightclub shooting later, the next big thing ends up doing a ten year bid. Take that, take that.

It seemed that his legacy would be confined to two solid and highly underrated albums, his self-titled debut and ‘Godfather buried alive’. And his life could be summed up with a Bill Duke line from Menace II Society: “you know you done fucked up, right?”

Against all odds, all the drama ends up seeming as a mere prelude to Shyne’s actual recording career. After the jail time, converting to Judaism while incarcerated and getting deported to Belize upon release, Shyne aka Moses Levi releases the Gangland mixtape. Truth be told my expectations weren’t high for this one since he’d been deprived of The Hitmen’s production genius and at first glance didn’t sound like the nimble 21 year old rapper that exploded on the scene more than a decade ago. Gangland is a monster of a record through, to the point you actually feel like you’re doing it a disservice calling it a mere mixtape. Shyne comes across as the last real rapper alive of the course of the album’s 18 tracks and as a refreshing alternative to rap’s current batch of manufactured drug Kingpins, personified by the omnipresent Rick Ross.

Shyne’s fluidity on the mic has been replaced by a slower, hoarse flow and he’s trying to come to terms with the fact that he’s lost nearly ten years of his life. As such Gangland might not be a demonstration of skill, dude’s lost a step over the course of the last decade from a mere technical standpoint, but it does make for an utterly compelling record as a more contemplative Shyne emerged after all the trials and tribulations. At times he sounds bitter, other moments remorseful but always brutally honest. There’s no glorification of crime or his past actions. There are no excuses being made, shit happens. Gangland is a headphone masterpiece, one of those instances where a rapper’s words carry so much weight that they transcend nearly all of his limitations as an artist. Don’t get it twisted, Shyne is still a gifted rapper and gets to ride some gritty and bleak soundscapes as he takes you with him through his personal purgatory. There’s none of the gloss of his debut album and only a few nods to current trends, with some Lex Luger style drum programming and synths thrown in the mix. For the most part it’s that vintage boom-bap, Nuevo York aesthetic that’ll keep your head bopping throughout.

He’ll probably never be a household name again but if this tape is any indication he’s going to end up being one of rap’s brightest stars, on his own terms. The King of New York is back.

Recommended: You’re welcome, Meyer Lansky, King Judah, King David

 

Necro – The Murder Murder Kill Kill Double EP – 7.6/10

Necro - The Murder Murder Kill Kill Double EPHard to admit sometimes but rap fans often are a conservative bunch. For all the ranting and raving against commercialized hip-hop, they don’t want an artist to rock the boat too hard and there are limits to how hardcore things should get. That pretty much sums up why Necro is condemned to cult status, which in the natural order of things goes with the territory when your whole steez is built around exploitation. But to pigeonhole Ron Braunstein as a one trick pony doesn’t do the man and his undeniable talent, both in the booth and behind the boards, justice. The initiated already know that the self-proclaimed Sexorcist is part of a lineage of rugged East Coast emcees like Kool G Rap, Tragedy Khadafi, Akinyele and Mobb Deep.

Enter the Murder Murder Kill Kill Double EP, somewhat of a stop-gap release and at the same time a defiant fuck you to all the critics that have labeled him one-dimensional his entire career. First thing you notice is the amazing album artwork, a nod to seventies horror flicks with a zombie like creature rocking a necklace made out of human heads, holding a bloody butcher knife in one hand and another decapitated head in the other.

The actual album is made up out of five sides: Thug Shit, Death Rap, Jewish Gangsters, Tabloid/Comedy/Random and The Sexorcist. Necro murder murder kill kills the 15 songs contained within, no matter what the subject matter is. The double EP offers a couple of sneak previews of upcoming collaborations. First with the legendary Kool G Rap, ‘The System’, and then Mr. Hyde, the track ‘GORE!’ which builds anticipation for their Gruesome Twosome project as they trade sadistic verses on the cut.

The production is vintage Necro, gritty basslines and eerie piano loops pop up throughout the proceedings. On the Jewish Gangsters side, perhaps the best part of the album, he revisits the Black Helicopters sound with great success. The only downside is that these songs, like most of the tracks on the album are too damn short considering how dope they are. ‘Tough Jew’ and ‘Rabbi Holding Guns’ are both one verse and that’s it. Even the aforementioned ‘The System’ doesn’t go beyond two verses. It makes you hope these songs won’t be abandoned and will appear in a more fully developed form on future Psycho+logical Records releases.

At the end of the day this double EP fulfills it’s purpose as it keeps the momentum from the outstanding DIE! album going while it serves as an appetizer for great things to come. In that regard in seems kind of unfair to fault the album for being a bit slight on songs, verses and polish. It also illustrates that after all these years Necro hasn’t run out of steam and has enough ideas in his warped mind for more than a few new full length LP’s down the line. This record could already have been that next great album. The concept was in place along with the beats and rhymes but because of it’s short length it ends up being one hell of a preview. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait too long for that G Rap & Necro Godfathers collabo.

Recommended: The System, GORE!, Tough Jew, For The Streets, Sharon’s Fetus

 

Insane Clown Posse – The Tempest – 7.1/10

Insane Clown Posse - The TempestYes, this is Insane Clown Posse, the counterargument to every point you ever tried making to someone about the artistic merits of rap music and it being based around intricate wordplay and rhyme schemes. They’re most likely rap music’s biggest guilty pleasure this side of Vanilla Ice. While we’re at it, let’s admit we all dig ‘Ice Ice Baby’ and that you simply can’t front on that song, okay? Good.

Now as far as guilty pleasures go ICP are a riot. If you’re not into frat boy, or better yet juvenile humor you’ll never be able to stomach their brand of music and you probably haven’t noticed that they’ve become better at rapping over the years. At least Violent J has but Shaggy 2 Dope knows his role and plays it to perfection.

The Tempest, released in 2007, is in my opinion the most fun album they’ve made in their entire career and the best pure pop-rap album in a minute. Make no mistake about it, The Tempest is ICP turning into a Kid ’n Play for the new millennium, with serial killer aspirations, and it’s a blast kickstepping your way through this one.

Producer Mike E. Clark is largely responsible for the record turning out as good as it did. It’s his work behind the boards that truly makes the record the rollercoaster ride to which the album title refers. Clark knows that you can never overdue old school scratching on the turntables and that dropping some meaty guitar bits in the mix just adds to the overall flavor. Leave some rooms for catchy hooks and sing-along choruses

With the beats behind them the clowns can do what they do best: entertain. Their approach on the mic might be basic but they never set out to be Aesop Rock or Royce da 5’9”, they just want to talk about parties, girls and killing sprees. It’s when they venture into more serious territory that their limitations become obvious. Luckily that doesn’t happen too often on The Tempest. At times they tend to overplay the poppy hooks card but there’s a always a dirty joke lurking just around the corner when that happens.

If you’re looking for a fun record that’s good for some laughs and takes you back to the glory days of the Fat Boys and Young MC, in spirit at least, The Tempest is well worth spending an hour with.

Recommended: The Party, Bitch I lied, Mexico City, If I was a serial killer

 

Vinnie Paz – God of the serengeti

Vinnie Paz - God of the serengetiVinnie Paz from Jedi Mind Tricks has been in my playlists for several years now. Most recent “End of Days” has been one of the tracks I’ve been bumping alot. I like the fact that Vinnie Paz talks alot about conspiracy theories, government influence and “the man”. He’s also got an ability to find real tight beats to spit over. Personally I think his delivery is not the best, at least not when trying to do slow love-songs and such, but it goes well with certain types of songs. “God of the serengeti” was released in october of 2012 and for me, it was one of the albums I was anticipating the most in 2012.

1. Shadow of the Guillotine (featuring Q-Unique) Produced by: DJ Lethal
Half of the first track is a quote from some movie, with some guy saying he is your king… Once the track gets going Vinnie Paz and Q-Unique are spitting what basically is battle lyrics, talking about how great they are and how people want to stop them etc. I basically view this as an intro…

2. Slum Chemist Prod: C-Lance
“Who knows what the f*ck God wants?” and “You ask for forgiveness but you should ask why” are two representative quotes from this song. Vinnie P’s talking about a variaty of things but I think the essance of the song is that everybodys reality is different and what is right and wrong is defined by the individuals own conception of the same, because who really knows what the f*ck God wants? The beat’s pretty repetative but as a whole it’s a pretty good track.

3. The Oracle Prod: DJ Premier
We all know what DJ Premier can do so I had high expectations on this track. Unfortunately, production could be better… Vinnie P’s rapping about himself, innanet thugz, b*tches and other stuff that irritates him. Basically an other battle rap track. I can dig it, but it’s average…

4. And Your Blood Will Blot Out the Sun (featuring Immortal Technique & Poison Pen) Prod: Tony Kenyatta
Vinnie Paz and Immortal Technique has a similar style and go real well together. They are joined by Poison Pen on this track even though I’m not sure which part he does since I only hear two verses. I guess he could be doing the hook. Vinnie and Immortal Technique is talking about the world, injustices of the world and how the world is ruled by crazy dictators. I like it. The beat is really tight with some sample playing over a tight drumbeat.

5. Last Breath (featuring Baby Pun & Whispers) Prod: C-Lance
Vinnie’s going for the radio with this one. “Last Breath” has a real catchy hook and beat. Just like “And Your Blood…” it has a really good sample and drumbeat as base for the track. This time some other instruments has been added as well making it even more radio friendly. I wouldn’t say Vinnie Paz sold out though. It’s not like he’s singing a hook with Brittany Spears or something… Anyway, as the title implies this song is about death and what these rappers would give their last breath for. It’s a really deep track, and I really believe that listeners of Vinnie Paz should take the time to hear what he’s got to say.

6. Crime Library (featuring Blaq Poet) Prod: Marco Polo
“Crime Library” is basically a story about different types of crimes. What impresses me most about this track is the mixing. I rarely even think about how a track is mixed but this has a really good sound image and I can’t wait to bump this in my car. That kind of saves the track which would have been pretty boring if it wasn’t for that.

7. Feign Submission (Interlude) Prod: JBL the Titan
I’m not sure why this is called an interlude when the first track of the album is not. Some kid is talking for 30 secs and then Vinnie starts rapping over a sample. It’s a pretty good sample and Vinnie catches on to it.

8. Duel to the Death (featuring Mobb Deep) Prod: Stu Bangas
Mobb Deep seems to be connected to a certain melodramatic type of music. This adds on to that stereotype. I’m not sure how well Vinnie’s fitting in on this type of track but it’s a typical Mobb Deep track and they are usually pretty good…

9. Problem Solver (featuring Scarface) Prod: The Arcitype
“Problem Solver” has a tight beat and legendary featuring as Scarface is making a guest appearance. I can bump this track alot, but it’s not memorable in any way. Vinnie P and Scarface is talking about how good they are, what they’ve seen etc. I can dig it…

10. Battle Hymn (featuring Apathy, King Syze, Crypt the Warchild, Jus Allah, Esoteric, Blacastan, Celph Titled & Planetary) Prod: Mr. Green
Another battle rap track by Vinnie Paz. Another tight sample. Another tight beat. I’m going to bump this in the future.

11. Geometry of Business (featuring La Coka Nostra) Prod: Havoc
Vinnie Paz knows how to find good beats, that’s for sure. Here he’s teaming up with La Coka Nostra on a Havoc beat to deliver a really nice track. The beat gets a little bit repetitive but that’s ok.

12. Jake LaMotta Prod: Illinformed
After alot of guests it’s time for a solo track from Vinnie. I really like the funk inspired beat. For those who doesn’t know, Jake LaMotta was a boxer nicknamed “The Raging Bull” or “The Bronx Bull” portrayed by Robert de Niro in 1980 movie “Raging Bull”. In this track, Vinnie P’s saying that he’s like the bull from Bronx.

13. 7 Fires of Prophecy (featuring Tragedy Khadafi) Prod: Beatnick Dee
Tragedy Khadafi is, just like Vinnie Paz and Immortal Technique, known for texts about society, society structure and power structure in the world and in the United States. However, this song doesn’t have a clear message. They’ve felt pain in their lives and you shouldn’t mess with them. You’re not ready…

14. Cheesesteaks Prod: Psycho Les
“Cheesesteaks” is another solo track with a really nice beat. This far, the beats are really holding this album. Vinnie’s got some nice lines as he’s mixing battle-like rhymes with points and lessions from his life.

15. Cold, Dark, and Empty (featuring FT & Smoke) Prod: Jack of All Trades
Vinnie, FT and Smoke are spitting fire over this powerful beat from Jack of All Trades. I really like the intensity that these rappers are delivering on this track. This is a tight track!

16. Razor Gloves (featuring R.A. the Rugged Man) Prod: MTK
Here Vinnie’s rapping about how he’s the God of the serengeti. Both beat and delivery is kind of repetative at a first listen of the track, but once I’ve bumped this a few times I’m getting into it. R.A. the Rugged Man is providing a really good addition to this track and album.

17. Wolves Amongst the Sheep (featuring Kool G Rap & Block McCloud) Prod: C-Lance
Block McCloud is a hook machine. I can’t believe more rappers hasn’t discovered him to use him in hooks. Instead of a boy-like singing he’s got a raw touch to his voice which makes the hooks less teeny and more…. raw. Any rapper reading this should get him on a few hooks. The track itself isn’t a highlight of this album but it’s okay. Vinnie and Kool G Rap are doing their thing and as the title indicates they’re talking about wolves among the sheep. The sheep is the peoble, but who are the wolves?

18. You Can’t Be Neutral On a Moving Train Prod: C-Lance, JBL the Titan
Finally, Vinnie’s doing one of the thing he does best – political rap. “You can’t be neutral on a moving train” means you can’t be neutral while alot of sh*t happens in our society. The track’s based on a really tight sample and delivery as well as the stories are top notch. One of the highlights of this album.

Overall, I was a little disappointed with this album. I expected Vinnie Paz to step up another notch from “Season of the Assassin” and if he would’ve done that this album could’ve been a classic. But even though I’m a little disappointed I have to admit it is a really solid album. Tracks like “Last Breath”, “Battle Hymn” and “You can’t be neutral on a moving train” are really good tracks that anyone should check out. I’ll still bump this album and anticipate Vinnie P’s next release, but I’ll be hoping for more politically inspired lyrics as I think Vinnie does that really well.

If you like Lil Wayne or if you’re excited when your favourite rapper has Brittany Spears featuring on a song, this album is not for you. If you like Jedi Mind Tricks and Vinnie Paz, or similar music, you should definitely check this out. I rate this album 3,5 out of 5.

Master P – 99 Ways To Die

Master P - 99 Ways To Die“99 Ways To Die” was not only Master P’s fourth solo effort, but was also released in the golden era of California’s hip hop reign. The Bay Area was also the original home of P’s No Limit Records, as evidenced by 1995’s “99 Ways To Die.” The album was released after the success of P’s “West Coast Bad Boyz” and contains a completely different feel than P’s catelogue when No Limit obtained commercial success in New Orleans.

1.) Intro/17 Reasons: After paying homage to such Bay Area veterans as E-40, Rappin 4 Tay, Too Short, JT The Bigga Figga, and Spice 1 over Earth Wind & Fire’s “Reasons”, P flips the script over a funky loop about an attempted car jack with his brothers – C-Murder and Silkk The Shocker. Good way to open up the album.

2.) Commercial 1: Although the album’s first track was billed as an intro, this second track on the album, is just a commercial about P getting bit while getting head. Pointless skit, skip it.

3.) Dead Presidents: Before Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents II” was heralded as an East Coast classic, Master P’s ode to currency recieves a West Coast treatment. While P’s rhymes aren’t anything spectacular (“I’m not Dr. Dre, but Richmond, California’s ‘Deathrow'”), funky Bay Area production, combined with P’s delivery make for a good track.

4.) Rollin Thru My Hood feat. Big Ed, King George, Lil Ric, Silkk: Over another bouncing instrumental, Master P describes a day rolling through his hood in Richmond, California. Backed up by later ‘No Limit Soldiers’ – Big Ed and Silkk The Shocker, P recieves a little help from some of his first recruits to the tank – Lil Ric and King George. While everybodies verses are on par, Silkk suprisingly steals the show with a smooth flow over an even smoother beat.

5.) Bullets Gots No Name feat. E-A-Ski, Rally Ral: Production on this song has a definite West Coast vibe, as all three artists do an excellent job at describing how ‘bullets gots no name’, so your best bet is to stay strapped. Great track up and down.

6.) When They Gone: After three previous uptempo songs, Master P dedicates this track to everyone dying in violence. From the average joe on the street to his brother Kevin Miller, P’s delivery and charisma carry this track, making for another great track, and possibly one of the album’s best.

7.) Playa Wit Game feat. King George, Silkk, Simply Dre: This song is one of my personal favorites, as P trades verses with his brother over a very funkdified instrumental, before King George laces the third verse. A great hook by Simply Dre, and even better production carry this song.

8.) Commercial 2: This commercial is entertaining for the simple fact it features Romeo (who was only about 5 years old at the time) asking his dad if he’s ever killed someone before. Otherwise, skip it.

9.) 99 Ways To Die: Easily the best track on the album, this is Master P just kicking rhymes Bay Area style, while detailing the West Coast hustle, and how the streets are indeed ‘survival of the fittest.’ Even though the hook is very simple, it’s Master P’s delivery and ability to make a good track that make this a West Coast classic.

10.) Rev. Do Wrong Commercial: After only one song seperating two skits, this is another dissapointing ‘commercial’ featuring “Rev. Do Wrong” who is preaching in a church about the 99 ways to die in the hood. Skip it.

11.) Hoe Games feat. C-Murder, King George, Silkk: This track is very different. It starts off with Master P portraying a radio host awarding the caller that can properly define a ‘busta.’ The beat is very basic and repetitive, and this song is worth listening to for the simple fact C-Murder makes a rare guest appearence. Otherwise, this is probably the weakest track on the album.

12.) 1-900-Master P: After the dissapointment of the last song, P and younger brother Silkk get funky over this dedication to the ‘late night creep.’ This track is another one of the album’s highlights as P’s flow and subject matter make for a great track. King George adlibs the hook.

13.) When They Gone (Radio): Not much to say about this track, except for the fact that the explicit version is already on the album, and the radio version isn’t that much different. Dissapointing way to close out an otherwise good release from Master P.

While not containing the polished beats and greatness of “Ghetto D”, this album offers fans a glimpse into what Master P was before he was, well – Master P. P’s Bay Area roots shine throughout the CD, and although some would bill this as an underground classic, an overabundance of skits and some weaker tracks end up dragging it down. This is still a good release none the less, and manages to still get respect to this day, being billed as one of P’s better albums.

Overall Rating: 3.7/5