Born of the evils of police brutality, discriminatory housing acts and other forms of systemic racism, it is fair to say Hip-Hop was a beautiful byproduct of some truly horrendous circumstances. This is reflected in the sound of the genre’s early days. Hauntingly dark and grimy beats would often be paired with an emcee’s societal reflections. This way the production would mirror the lyrical content and ultimately help drive the rapper’s point home that much more. As the genre has progressed, the palette of sounds and types of personalities have certainly become more varied. While this is a great milestone for the genre, it has started to create a bit of a divide for many listeners. As different styles have found their way into the genre, old hip-hop fans have begun to feel a bit alienated. The honest, street style poetry that permeated through the 1980s-’90s is seldom found in mainstream songs today. And while the immense sonic changes of the past 15 years have brought tremendous results, sometimes it is nice to hear a collection of songs that feel very in touch with Hip-Hop’s roots. Although it’s harder to find on the charts, conscious, grimy hip-hop still is alive and well, and the latest DJ Muggs album is a fine example of this.
Right out of the gates, this album establishes its credibility with an absolutely malicious cut featuring Kool G Rap entitled “Day of the Dead.” On top of the already ominous title, this beat’s content is downright frightening. The tight snare drum hits, minimal yet haunting bass line and the siren-esque brass section on the track paint a sinister picture for the listener. Kool G Rap’s menacing delivery and rhymes only add to the allure of the track, as he never fails to impress as an emcee. “Assassination Day” is an even eerier cut. Kool G Rap finds his way on this cut as well, but it is MF DOOM’s cut-up flow that makes this track. DOOM sounds anew on this beat as he is forced to occupy a bit of a different niche than he is used to. Still, he is able to convey the cinematic street feel that makes him so unique in the hip-hop genre. Beneath these great verses on is an odd, but smart beat. A more emphasized kick drum is paired with a dark guitar riff and tense string selection. The strings have immense rising action and ultimately add much more drama to what each rapper is saying.
Strings appear again on the cut “Black Snow Beach,” but this time they serve a much different purpose. They are much more melodic, which is a stark contrast to the prior cuts on this record. The cut is still very conscious, but the production is much lighter here. The snare hits that were once so tight and unnerving have now been replaced with a much lower and fuzzier tone. Even so, Raekwon and Meyhem Lauren still deliver some dark imagery over it, creating quite a lovely contrast. This juxtaposition doesn’t just exist on this track; “Contagion Theory” also toes this line between grime and beauty. The laid-back tempo and sprawling trumpet on this track certainly make it stick out from the setlist, but Mach-Hommy still seems a bit more somber than the production would suggest. His verse, while hard to decode, seems to be a pondering of his dissatisfactions, whether it is internally or within the rap game. This change of pace is welcome but not here for long.
Just when you think you understand where the record is going, tracks like “Duck Sauce” and “Death Wish” come back into the fold to give you that relentless street production back. The former track perfectly represents the appeal of this record, as dissonant guitars, filthy drums and gang-like imagery cut through the track and create a world for the listener to live in. “Death Wish” is one of the more minimal beats on the album, but it is perhaps the album’s strongest cut as MF DOOM and Freddie Gibbs go toe-to-toe with outstanding verses. Where DOOM spits a deliberate and introspective verse, Gibbs drops a ghastly verse with rocket fast flow. This song leaves the listener wanting more, but sadly there is not much more for us to indulge on. All that remains after this cut is the “Outro” track, which is very pretty, but ultimately not anything to go crazy over.
While this might seem like an upsetting conclusion to the record, it actually works out pretty great. Clocking in at 26 minutes and 12 songs, Soul Assassins: Dia del Asesinato maintains a firm grasp on the listener throughout its entire duration. The conscious lyrics and hard knock beats on here feel like a refreshing call back to the roots of the genre, while also not feeling too outdated. At the end of the day, DJ Muggs created a concise, but cohesive collection of tracks that are pretty to the point. There is nothing utterly mind-blowing about these songs, but they certainly transport the listener to a different place. This escape is all a listener can ask for.