Sunday, January 2, 2011

Album Review: "Magnum Force" - Heltah Skeltah (1998)

INTRODUCTION

Heltah Skeltah introduced itself to the rap world in 1996 with its classic debut album Nocturnal, an incredibly raw and grimy record featuring top-notch production from Da Beatminerz and more than palpable raps from Ruck and Rock. Apparently, the duo was feeling so good about themselves after the critical success of their first project that they decided to completely exclude Da Beatminerz from their sophomore release, Magnum Force (did you sense any foreshadowing there?).

Now, it is well-known that putting out an outstanding debut is almost like a kiss of death, as the masses will never be satisfied will anything you put out afterward, no matter how good it may be (just ask Nas). I completely understand that aspect. However, failing to duplicate the success of your first album is one thing. Completely going away from the formula that brought you such success is another, and that is what Heltah Skeltah does on Magnum Force.

Don't think that I am about to metaphorically crap all over this album, because I'm not. In the grand scheme of things, I don't hate it. I mean, Ruck, who clearly established himself as the stronger member of the group on Nocturnal, had improved as a rapper by this point (which would eventually lead into a phenomenal solo career), and Rock's booming voice was still more than prevalent. The issue is whether or not the production on this album did Heltah Skeltah justice, and you're about to find out (in case you couldn't already tell).

TRACK-BY-TRACK

1. Worldwide (Rock The World)

Actually, Magnum Force gets off to a very solid start, as a producer named Self laces a good one for Ruck and Rock here, and Ruck just puts it to bed: "
I'm artistic, watch how fast I draw my gun." Ruck was spitting vicious punchlines long before he became known as Sean Price. "Worldwide (Rock The World)" is pretty damn good.

2. Call Of The Wild
"Call Of The Wild" is the first of many mistakes on Magnum Force. It's not even that Self's beat is that bad (although it certainly isn't anything to write home about). The problem is the guest appearances. First of all, Ruck isn't even on here, which is a travesty in and of itself, but look who rapped instead of him: Representativz (a duo consisting of Supreme and Lidu Rock), Hardcore, and Doc Holiday. Starang Wondah is on this cut, too, so at least it has that going for it, but excluding Ruck for those guys is just beyond comprehension.

3. Gunz 'N Onez (Iz U Wit Me)
On the surface, this song looks like it would be really good, as it features Method Man, and who wouldn't want to hear a track featuring Ruck, Rock, and Meth? Don't get too excited, though, because this cut really isn't that impressive, thanks to the lackluster beat by Smoke which sounds like it's trying to mimic "Place To Be" off of Nocturnal at points.

4. Perfect Jab
Alright; now this effing bangs. Bangs. Like on "Call Of The Wild," Ruck is not present, which is extremely disappointing because he would have ripped this beat (which was co-produced by Rock and Supreme) to shreds, but Rock and Supreme (yes; they rapped on and produced this cut) do more than enough to hold it down. Seriously, though; what's with leaving Ruck out on two of the first four tracks?

5. Chika Woo
Ohhh; I get it now. Ruck didn't perform on "Call Of The Wild" or "Perfect Jab" so he could write this sappy break-up song. I appreciate the fact that Ruck tries to branch out and do something different, but he is just not suited for this type of track at all. The production (by Punch and NOD) is alright, but I have to convince myself that it's actually Ruck rapping whenever I listen to this. That generally isn't a good thing.

6. I Ain't Havin' That
This was the album's first single, and it was actually pretty popular. The beat by Cuzin Bawb (the hell?) and Starang Wondah (who also makes a guest appearance) is alright, but I lost interest in it midway through. There really isn't anything to see here.

7. Brownsville II Long Beach
One thing is for sure; the good moments on Magnum Force are really good, and this Dogg Pound collaboration is one of them. Daz Dillinger produces a banger of a beat, and both he and Kurupt drop solid verses (Kurupt actually drops two). However, it is Ruck who takes this track, kills it, revives it, and then kills it again. He absolutely shreds this. For example: "Act like it can't happen when would I ever let you slide
, two fly niggas becoming victims of whorides, you try to avoid my clutches that's when you die, news fly fast as fuck on how Ruckus done bruised guys." Both of Ruck's verses (yes; he got two) are ill, making "Brownsville II Long Beach" the best song on the album.

8. Magnum Force
This is another one of the album's better tracks. The beat by Grand Daddy I.U. has "street banger" written all over it, and Ruste Juxx, who I friggin love, makes an appearance and drops a verse. The Representativz drop in, too, and they actually hold their own.

9. Sean Wigginz
Ruck gets his second solo cut on the project, but, unfortunately, it's only a minute and fifty-three seconds long, and he only spends about half of that time actually rapping. NOD's beat is pretty solid, though.

10. Forget Me Knots
This reminds me of "Perfect Jab," which is a great thing, and this time, Ruck is present. Grand Daddy I.U.'s beat is ill, possessing ridiculously hard-hitting kicks and snares that Ruck and Rock ride flawlessly. This is the Heltah Skeltah everyone wants to hear.

11. Black Fonzirelliz
If its title didn't tip you off as to how terrible "Black Fonzirelliz" is, then I guess you can go ahead and listen to the actual song for confirmation.

12. MFC Lawz
The beat is terrible, and it contains guest appearances from a bunch of guys I've never even heard of. Yeah; no thanks.

13. Hold Your Head Up
Heltah Skeltah tries to get deep here, and even if this isn't one of my favorite songs on Magnum Force, you've gotta appreciate the effort, as both Ruck and Rock sound sincere. Anthony Hamilton sings the hook.

14. Gang's All Here
This cut is over nine minutes long, so I obviously don't listen to it consistently as I just don't have the patience, but it's actually not that bad. Heltah Skeltah wasn't lying, either; the gang really is all here, as everyone from Smif-N-Wessun to two Originoo Gunn Clappaz members (Starang and Louieville Sluggah) to Buckshot make appearances. The beat by Smoke is decent enough.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As a whole, Magnum Force just isn't very good. Sure, Ruck and Rock (especially Ruck) prove they can still rip it and spit with the best of them, but the lack of any production by Da Beatminerz on here really puts a damper on anything the two rappers accomplish lyrically on this project.

Maybe it's because I am so spoiled by Da Beatminerz's beats on Nocturnal, but the beats on this album just do not hold up well at all. There were a couple of brilliant moments, such as "Perfect Jab" and "Forget Me Knots," but overall, the production on Magnum Force is extremely underwhelming, and some of the instrumentals (like "Chika Woo," for example) just do not suit Heltah Skeltah one bit.

I really have to question why in the world Ruck and Rock decided to go off on their own without Da Beatminerz in tow for this album. It's not like they had any kind of beef or anything, so what gives? Da Beatminerz just have a distinct sound that fits all of the Boot Camp Clik groups like a glove. If you would have given me only the instrumentals on Magnum Force to listen to without me knowing Ruck and Rock rapped over them, I never would have guessed that this was a Heltah Skeltah record.

I guess I shouldn't blast Heltah Skeltah too much, though, because this album is still better than a lot of the trash that is out there today. The problem is that it just isn't up to the standards that I expect out of the duo.

Perhaps the worst part about all of this is that Heltah Skeltah apparently did not learn from its mistakes, as its third album, D.I.R.T. (Da Incredible Rap Team), released after a 10-year hiatus in 2008, also does not feature a single beat from Da Beatminerz. Oh well. Time to pop in Nocturnal.

TOP FIVE TRACKS

1. Brownsville II Long Beach
2. Forget Me Knots
3. Perfect Jab
4. Magnum Force
5. Worldwide (Rock The World)

SKIPPABLE TRACKS

Black Fonzirelliz
MFC Lawz

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