REVIEW: Heltah Skeltah – Magnum Force

Magnum Force

Artist: Heltah Skeltah

Album: Magnum Force

Label: Priority

Rating: 5.5 / 10

Reviewer: DJ MF

Look back at the figurative corpses of sophomore releases past that litter the landscape of not just hip hop, but music in general. A widely held belief in life to many is that success breeds further success, and so on. Amusingly enough, the world of music, and more specifically hip hop, the oppposite holds true in what seems to be 99.9% of the cases of 2nd albums.

I mean seriously. Name a better second album from any hip hop act out there. I’m sure there ARE some, but the point is, oftentimes, amazing debuts are followed up by duds. Cases in point – Nas. Ras Kass. More recently, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, this statement would also apply to The Roots and Common too.

So we finally come to the issue at hand – Heltah Skeltah’s “Magnum Force”. I’ve preached about my love for the BCC and Duck Down Records many a time. I’ll spare you my gushing platitudes this time. However, to most in the hip hop community, the BCC are the poster children for ‘falling off syndrome’. Smif N Wessun changed to the Cocoa B’s and dropped a second album which was putrid compared to their debut. Black Moon found themselves irrelevant after 8 years away from the scene. OGC strayed from their original sound in an effort to sell more LP’s. And what of Heltah Skeltah, Mr. Ruck (aka Sean Price) and Rock? Well, they fall somewhere in between.

Simply put, this album ain’t no “Nocturnal”. And it’s a point that is hammered home immediately at the beginning of the album. Gone are the dark Beatminerz snares and sounds, replaced by softer drum patterns and soaring violins for the majority of tracks. Actually, gone are the Beatminerz altogether, due to beef with the production team at the time . And most surprising of all – gone are Ruck and Rock. Well not literally. But compared to their first album, which featured scant guest spots (the Repz, Illa, and OGC), this album is stuffed to the tats with guests. Outlawz, DPG, OGC, the entire BCC on one track, the Repz, Method Man, the MFC clik.

Oftentimes, the new approach works wonderfully. The opening track ‘Worldwide’ is a perfect example, with a sweeping violin soundtrack, and Ruck and Rock ripping the track to shreds verbally. Other times, the approach fails miserably. Witness ‘Chicka Woo’, an R&B type track (with admittedly non-R&B content) that if someone had told Heltah Skeltah they’d be making 8 years ago, would have probably led to the questioners beatdown.

Of course, even with the oftentimes stale beats found on much of the album, the star potential of Ruck and Rock keep things on the level. ‘Perfect Jab’ with the pairing of Supreme and Rock, just blazes on a lyrical tip. You won’t even care if the bassline sounds like a series of farts. And the album closer, ‘Gangz All Here’, featuring at LEAST 10 MC’s (I ain’t counting them) has one of the most uninspired posse beats I’ve ever heard, but likewise, manages to be dope as hell nonetheless.

There are other tracks throughout that will catch your ear too, but nothing on the level of the above two. The MFC crew is introduced on ‘I Ain’t Havin’ That’, which jacks the famous instrumental to ATCQ’s ‘Hot Sex’. And Meth shows up to drop a decent enough verse on ‘Gunz and Onez’, but in the process gets outshined by a killer Rock verse.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the skits on the album. For once, you WON’T be skipping them. Well, you will, but at least they’re VERY entertaining. A couple of jabs at Ms. Badu, and an incredibly funny interlude comparing a Snickers bar to a part of the male anatomy are the highlights. And the bonus is that they’re short enough that you won’t get pissed off listening to them.

In the end however, what’s most disappointing about “Magnum Force” is that it is simply mediocre. Many a crew would die to get even that sort of praise. But with Heltah Skeltah, I’d have been more happy if it was all wack. That way at least, one could say that they fell off. This album is in no way ‘falling off’. To me, it seems more like a ‘lazying off’. If more work had been put into making this a cohesive HELTAH SKELTAH album, rather than a taste tester for their MFC crew, I’d have been much happier. As it stands, all “Magnum Force” did was make me put “Nocturnal” back in my CD player.

If you haven’t heard “Nocturnal”, by all means give this a shot. It certainly has a ‘modern’ hip hop sound that should appeal to newer listeners. However, once you do hear their debut, you ain’t gonna be going back.

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