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 Illadelph’s Jedi Mind Tricks first got the attention of the underground hip-hop audience in 1996, with the release of their Amber Probe E.P., a very limited pressing that was shipped to college radio deejays, and shortly after, sold online at a brand new record store called HipHopSite.

With such an obvious Star Wars reference in the group’s name, catching the attention of the curious backpacker was easy, creating a buzz that led to the group’s first full-length, The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological, and Electro-Magnetic Manipulation of Human Consciousness. Looking back at the title of that album, it seems funny that it was such a popular underground release, considering that nowadays a title like that would be laughed at, or simply regarded as “nerd-rap”.

Nevertheless, JMT have changed with the times, and Violent By Design is a reflection of that maturity. Ikon and Jus Allah still deliver thought provoking rhymes about torture and religious sacrifices, but the hunger has grown even greater, resulting in a more hardcore sound. By no means is this record “thugged-out”, but it’s rawer than ever, with beats that bring out lyrical ferocity from everyone involved. The aptly titled “Death March” teams the Jedi up with Boston’s Virtuoso and Esoteric, as they shred up every mic touched, over the sounds of Stoupe’s scathing symphony. Things get even scarier on “Genghis Khan”, a firecracker that involves incredibly rugged production and a blistering verse from Tragedy Khadafi. But for the longtime fan, the album isn’t all violence, as tracks like “Speech Cobras” (feat. Mr. Lif) and “Exertions Remix” (feat. Bahamadia, Virtuoso, & Esoteric) keep things grounded with the heavy mental style they were birthed on.

Speaking of which, Stoupe’s production is very consistent throughout the album, but naysayers will be quick to point out the similarities in style to RZA’s. “Retaliation” and “Contra” have obvious Wu-Tang influence, as do several others on the album, but - on the real - considering the recent silence of the Clan, and the stream of disappointments they released shortly after Forever - the beats on this album are a breath of fresh air.

Jedi Mind Tricks have definitely solidified themselves in hip-hop’s underground, even more so with Violent By Design, an album that shows the evolution of the group. While the amount of guests on the album keeps things interesting, it’s does manage to make things a bit confusing, as to who are actually the members of the group. While Icon is clearly the lyrical leader, it still might take some more polishing over time to define each member’s role. Despite a few lackluster (read: dated) tracks that somehow slipped their way on to this otherwise impressive release, this Philly crew has pulled off another successful Jedi Mind Trick.

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