Born from the second generation of indy emcees, the Masterminds first caught heads attention with the 1997 single, “I’m Talented”, which boasted a fat Beatminerz backdrop behind. After a string of singles and two EP releases, the trio of Oracle, Kimani, and EPOD elevate to full-length status with The Underground Railroad.
This album represents an evolution of the group’s style, almost chronologically building itself into what may one day be perfection. Easily describable as that old New York rap, the Masterminds bring it back to simple mic rocking over phat beats. “Liberty” pops shit off, working as the group’s reintroduction, showing much improvement in both rhymes and production since we last left them. The trend continues on newer songs like “The Professionals”, as well as classics like “OneTwoThree” (featuring L-Fudge) or the revisited “Joints 2000″ (w/ Mr. Khaliyl).
While tracks like “Shell Shocked” and “The Spinners” pack their usual trademark of incredibly dope drum programming, some heads may notice a slight change in style, leaning towards a harder mode of production. But even “Front To Back”, which packs this same amount of hardcore energy, bridges the gap between what could be considered trendy east coast production. Another common complaint might be that the guests sometimes outshine the ?Minds, as evident on the album’s official blazer, “Seven”, featuring blistering verses from El-P, J-Live, Shabaam Sahdeeq, J-Treds, and Mr. Complex. Both Mr. Lif and Mr. Khaliyl also do their share of show stealing on “No Test” and “Joints 2000″.
But while these joints will simply reel us in, the album’s true gems lie in the conceptual tracks, which help balance everything out. “2025″ freaks a dope James Bond sample, while Kimani and Oracle make their way through a post-apocalyptic world where hip-hop lies on the brink of extinction. Time-travelling back to the past to “Day One”, are two stories told from the perspectives of two Black men who were lynched simply for existing, with the song packing an intense amount of feeling. Following it up is “Memories”, something to feel, where Kimani vividly paints a sorrowful picture about his deceased father, and the hardships of growing up without him. It’s tracks like these that show where the group’s greatest talent lies.
While this album definitely shows growth for the group, it may take a short while more for them to mature into seasoned emcees, but they’re on the right track.
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