If you discovered Jedi Mind Tricks in their exemplary late-’90s The Psycho-Social/Violent by Design period, you heard a potentially special young hip-hop group. The crisp production complemented Vinnie Paz’s gruff delivery perfectly then, and that tension made them instant indie stand-outs who were ultimately a bit too real to go mainstream. Unfortunately, things have changed for the worse. Legacy of Blood is high on shock value, and that’s about it. Stoupe’s dark, orchestral, Spanish-guitar-inflected production is sometimes dramatic to the point of cheesy, but it isn’t Legacy of Blood‘s problem Vinnie Paz is.
Paz, a.k.a. Ikon the Verbal Hologram, seems more interested in expressing homophobia and bloodlust than crafting his artless flow. On “Scars of the Crucifix,” Stoupe’s string-heavy ghetto-epic beat would sound nice with Vordul Megilah rolling over it, but it’s overwhelmed and ruined by Paz’s deliberate flow and lyrics that may as well have been penned by a teenager with a fetish for senseless violence. The repetition of sensationalist themes is maddening — Paz is like the Fox News of rapping.
A lot of underground rappers devote significant rhyme time to slaying wack emcees, especially the false gangster ilk. And you wonder what they’d have to say about Paz spitting over and over about the supreme love of a warm gat, liquefying guts and stabbing those from the apparently endless queue of people he despises. On “The Worst,” Paz raps: “Walk around with a long knife, twelve inches/ That’s real sharp for cutting skin/ Tie you up while I’m fucking your kin.” Is he publicly fantasizing about rape? Sure seems like it, and that’s not cool even in the most thugged-out gangsta rap context. Then, seemingly determined to undermine any credibility they may have once had, the mega-corny “Verses of the Bleeding” builds off the chorus, “We comin’ for blood!” Rest assured that high school suburbanites will be bumping this from the speakers of their Volvos on the way to dinner at TGIFriday’s within a few weeks.
Ironically, Legacy of Blood is saved from unmitigated embarrassment status by guest appearances and short instrumental interludes that are glorious oases to the majority of these tedious joints. Killah Priest’s smooth, effortless rhyming on “Saviorself” comes as an incredibly welcome antidote to Paz. Even though he really has, it’s like Killah Priest has never sounded better. GZA/Genius guest emcees on two songs, both unexceptional, but relieving if nothing else. On “The Age of the Sacred Terror,” Paz boasts: “This is our year!” The irony is unbelievable.
Jedi Mind Tricks is caught in a no-man’s land — the Philadelphia group’s violent stance and easy-on-the-ears production screams commercial potential, but their past as indie darlings may have colored their ideals just enough to keep them from pursuing it. Either way, 2004 is definitely not their year.