Souls of Mischief :: Montezuma's Revenge
Hiero Imperium Records
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
You can't call it a comeback, because they really have been here for years - almost
twenty in fact. That being said, there's quite a few people out there in the atmosphere
who haven't stayed aware of what Souls of Mischief had to share. SOM certainly didn't
break up after 2000's "Trilogy: Conflict, Climax, Resolution" but
they weren't releasing albums as a group either. The fab four of A-Plus, Opio, Phesto and Tajai were expanding
on their solo career aspirations through the Hiero Imperium, still collaborating on each
other's shit, but doing it their own way. As a result hip-hop got treated to some slept on
gems like Opio's "Vulture's Wisdom"
and Tajai's "Power Movement" while
they were simultaneously contributing SOM songs to various Hieroglyphics compilations.
For greedy needy rap fans though this simply wasn't sufficient, especially those who
came of age when "'93 Til Infinity" first
came out. Hip-Hop has a collective memory of the seismic shift which resonated outward
from California to the world, and the landscape changed as the limits which seemed to
exist shattered completely. SOM proved you could be verbose without being nerdy, hard
without being thugged out, mellow without being a stoner stereotype and hella fly with
their own mode of speech. Many imitated what came out of the Hieroglyphics camp, and
while a few came close to approximating it, none could duplicate it - especially Souls of
Mischief. In fact the success of "'93 Til" became one of those unreasonable moments any
gifted artist eventually experiences. Michael Jackson couldn't make "Thriller 2" any more
than SOM could make "'95 Til Infinity" - and you can't blame them for not trying. In
summary, here's four things you need to remember about "Montezuma's Revenge":
(1.) It's 2009, not 1993. Reminisce on the past, but don't dwell in it.
(2.) Just like Wu-Tang Clan, SOM never split, they just did solo joints.
(3.) If you think they haven't recorded together since 2000 you're WRONG.
(4.) Souls of Mischief are ready to invigorate the rap scene all over again.
Even before a promo copy of "Montezuma's Revenge" hit my desk, the peeps at
Audible Treats have
been leaking out selected tracks from this increasingly anticipated album, complete
with audio drops designed to shake the bootleggers off. The album doesn't drop
until December, so it's understandable to hear "Yo whassup? This is Opio from Souls
of Mischief, you're checking out Montezuma's Revenge, one love" interrupting songs
like "LaLaLa." Despite the drops snippets of dope lyricism still sneak out the speakers:
"You know A-Plus, you know he nuts like a cashew/cuss like a head coach and bust
like a gat do!" The raps are ill, but thanks to Prince Paul the track might be even iller.
YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY. The legendary Prince Paul has linked
up with the Hieroglyphic Imperium to provide some production on "Montezuma's
Revenge" and "LaLaLa" is a study in unconventional dopeness. The drum track is
like a tambourine rubbed and slapped against a washboard, punctuated by rimshots.
A short guitar riff looped in the background is so fresh it never gets repetitive, and
wouldn't even if the song was two minutes longer. The song itself is just the fearsome
four freestyling flyness, so it's up to Paul to provide the theme with the hook, and
"LaLaLa" draws its name entirely from the arabic singers crooning between verses.
The song's dope as hell but it's one of many creative musical and lyrical combos to
be found on "Montezuma's Revenge" like the lead single "Tour Stories":
"Ain't no way to count all the flights I'm takin
Chillin in Australia with them white Jamaicans
In Tokyo, I wasn't relaxin when I smoked (what?)
They throw the book at you if they catch you with a roach!
International ladies be givin up the numbers
Your homey get around like Christopher Columbus
And they know - I'll be back like Arnold
Act carnal, soon as I slam the car do'!
That's hard fo', a lot of brothers but not me you could
watch the Travel Channel probably spot me and I'm
very thankful I ain't gotta be cocky but I'm
flyer than a motherfucker, somebody stop me!"
Long-time Hiero member Domino and Prince Paul share the production credit here,
but whoever gets it deserves props for the light airy feel of the music and how well it
melds with the drums and subtle bassline, then picks up nicely by bringing in scratches
and funky horns on the hook. Sometimes when you listen to a beat you get the sense
it only took a minute to think of and five to create, but on songs like "Tour Stories" you
picture the producers spending three straight days in the lab just tweaking one song -
creating a bar of music, looping it, sampling from it, remixing it, reverberating it,
blending it, discarding it, creating something brand new and liking it more, then taking
the discarded dopeness and bringing it back into the fold - all done over and over again.
That sense pervades the entire album. On "Proper Aim" you'll enjoy the beats and
the rhymes in equal measure:
"Op don't need amphetamine
Op is an adrenaline fiend, Op live for the filthy scheme
Op gotta get the fettu-cine, similar to Medellin
Cartel, you never met a king
That's pushin with a head of steam like I'm Edgerrin James
Biggest Kilimanjaro bantamweight spaghetti green
They whylin in the mezzanine with a heavy chain
Follow to your limousine, stuck you like a nicotine patch
My reaction time is like a matador
If it seem imagined or inflated, check your vantage point"
Sink beneath the surface of the properly constructed linguistics and peep the bassline,
plucked like you're sitting in a smoky nightclub listening to a jazz trio. Then notice the
intentional crackle of the dusty record sampled, making the song far doper than it would
be without that crispy feel. Then notice the carefully timed cymbal hits and rolls. Then
notice the almost eerie melody that hits right before the mic is passed off artist to artist.
Then pull back and soak in the whole thing at the meta level - the song works either way.
When hip-hop is done right, you should be able to listen to the same song multiple times
and get different experiences. Time and time again on "Montezuma's Revenge" that's
exactly what happens. One gets the feeling Domino and Prince Paul bounced ideas off
each other the same way the four rappers of SOM do in a cypher, and that creativity
manifests itself repeatedly in songs like the head-nodding "You Got It," the symphonic
and beautiful (yet almost ironically titled) "Postal" and the relationship tale of woe
While it's too early to have the advantage of perspective gained sixteen
years after "'93 Til Infinity" was made, and the bootleg preventing drops do interfere
here and there, this has the makings of a brand new classic set to shake things up all
over again. It's perhaps fitting that Prince Paul is so heavily credited for his contributions,
because even though not every track on this promo has production notes, one can note
from the production of this album his demented genius influenced even songs produced
strictly by the Hiero camp. Since the members of Hiero were no slouches behind the
board to begin with (most interchangeably as good at rapping as at making beats) the
result puts the word gestalt to shame, because it's even greater than being greater than the
sum of its parts - and when it gets that great it's just art period.
Music Vibes: 9.5 of 10
Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 9 of 10
Originally posted: November 10, 2009