Jedi Mind Tricks — The Thief And The Fallen
Four years after the release of the last record under the Jedi Mind Tricks moniker, and the group has reversed course — with Jus Allah once again leaving and long-time producer Stoupe returning to the fold. Given that we've seen the release of 2 Army of the Pharaohs albums in the last year, seeing another Jedi Mind Tricks release was out in the wild piqued my interest immediately. At face value, the roster swap looks to be nothing but change for the better — but how would it actually play out?
Well, to be mild, The Thief and the Fallen is everything the group's last two offerings were not. While a competent rapper, Jus Allah really wasn't on Vinnie Paz' level and was generally the low-light of every track the two appeared on. From their early days rapping, Vinnie has steadily progressed and improved his technique and vocabulary whereas Jus Allah sounded unremarkable, strained, and pedestrian on A History of Violence and Violence Begets Violence respectively. (The fact his vocal tone was reminiscent of someone doing an impression of Cookie Monster with a head cold really didn't help matters.)
Stoupe once again serves up a fresh batch of tightly produced songs. Going back to my introduction to the group with Legacy of Blood, Stoupe's production work was one of the main draws that got me to really deep-dive into rap music. The Thief and the Fallen features the nuanced sort of layered, intricate production that Stoupe has made his calling card in the industry. My personal highlight was hearing portions of Mr. Bungle's "Pink Cigarette" sampled and spliced into "Fraudulent Cloth" — an amazingly powerful track with incredible guest vocals from Eamon on the chorus.
Production wise, Jedi Mind Tricks sounds top-tier and Vinnie delivers on the vocal front — spitting fiery verses, one after another. Aside from a couple hooks that feature distorted vocal samples I'm not overly keen on, the entirety of this album is one of my all-time favourite rap groups putting out their strongest material to date. Legacy of Blood was genre-defining to my young ears, while Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell took things to another level and got me into groups like Army of Pharaohs and the inhuman rhyming skills of RA The Rugged Man. That said, I earnestly believe that this latest record easily sits on par with — if not a small notch above — those two efforts. There's a feeling of maturity and growth present in this material that really hits home; it's also nice to hear a brutal, underground hip hop record without a single homosexual slur on it — the closest being a refrain in "And God Said to Cain" admonishing other rappers for being faeries. (Look, nitpick if you want, that's exceedingly mild considering previous albums consistently featured homophobic verses and lines.)
As is the case with JMT records after Violent By Design, the guest appearances are kept to minimum. In fact, many of the guest spots appear in the form of a few sample vocals or a chorus hook. Still, where guests are employed they serve the songs they feature in very well. I was very happy to see Yes Alexander on a couple of tracks, as her performance on "Is Happiness Just a Word?" from Vinnie's Carry on Tradition EP was the glue that held that beautiful piece of music together.
Also worth a specific mention is AFRO, a young up-and-coming MC who first caught people's attention with an absolutely amazing submission to a YouTube contest RA The Rugged Man was running. AFRO's performance on "And God Said to Cain" was mind-blowing, and I don't use that term loosely; a kid who can't even drink legally in the United States forced RA The Rugged Man and Vinnie Paz to seriously up their game on that track — resulting in one of my favourite rap singles of 2015. RA, as usual, turns in another machine gunned series of lyrics that leave you wondering how he finds time to breathe — truly a great MC in his own right. Lastly, Dilated Peoples lends a touching sense of humility to "The Kingdom that Worshiped the Dead" that really makes the whole track work, another highlight on the album.
Conceptually, this record doesn't differ too much from previous Jedi Mind Tricks releases. There's the tough guy posturing inherent to most of rap, the allusions to cartoonish levels of violence with religious overtones, the introspection — this is prime JMT. The Thief and the Fallen continues the group's trademark mix of gangster rap and theological / social commentary and at times harrowing self-reflection. I don't agree with everything Vinnie raps about or says in general, but I've always appreciated the creative verses he writes, the craft of the songs he appears on and his overall technique as a rapper. As I said earlier, this appears to be the group's strongest release — this holds true both as a whole and as one evaluates the individual pieces — and both members turn in first-rate performances.
Each track wastes little time establishing itself, throwing memorable, quotable verses at you while the instrumentation rewards the attentive, repeat listener. When it comes to rap music, my only concern is being entertained and this record delivers in spades. When a group sticks around long enough to establish their own musical 'vocabulary,' new albums are a mixed bag of anticipation — is this going to be another rehash or are they going to keep trying new things? In this case, Jedi Mind Tricks prove there is still a lot of life in this group. This is fun, dark, grimy rap with some of the best production in the world.
A very strong, true-to-form release from one of rap's more contentious groups. (You either don't know who they are, or probably have a really strong opinion about them one way or another.) More time is needed, but this is a serious contender for the group's best release yet. As a long-time follower of this group, not only am I happy that Vinnie and Stoupe are back together but I am immensely satisfied with the resulting album. This is one of my top rap albums of the year without any hesitation.
Release date: June 2nd, 2015
Record label: Enemy Soil
Vinnie Paz — vocals
Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind — production
- Poison in the Birth Water
- Rival the Eminent (feat. Lawrence Arnell)
- Hell's Messenger
- Merchant of War
- La Montagna del Dio Cannibale (Interlude)
- Fraudulent Cloth (feat. Eamon)
- And God Said to Cain (feat. AFRO and RA The Rugged Man)
- Destiny Forged in Blood
- Il tuo vizio e una stanza chiusa e solo Io ne ho la chiave (Interlude feat. Yes Alexander)
- Deathless Light
- No Jesus, No Beast
- The Kingdom that Worshiped the Dead (feat. Dilated Peoples)
- The God Supreme
- In the Coldness of a Dream (feat. Thea Alana)
- Lemarchand's Box (feat. Yes Alexander)
Published: September 21, 2015.