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1 January, 2001@12:00 am

While the Masterminds’ put the Indy scene on notice with their under-utilized 2001 debut The Underground Railroad. The duo’s sophomore project, Stone Soup, finds Kimani & Oracle in somewhat of a transitory state. Not only has the group ended their short relationship with Nu Gruv and created their own Third Earth Music imprint, but with former producer, EPOD, no longer in the fold, Kimani steps in to fill that void by adding a distinctive new flavor to the Masterminds musical motif.

Coined after Marcia Brown’s French fable, the Masterminds revision of Stone Soup includes a melting pot of afro-centric influences. Seemingly channeling the LP’s psychedelic cover-art thru his music, Kimani’s hazy production encompasses a variety of styles (drum and bass & acid jazz); exemplified by the muddy instrumental nod “Resolution” and the distorted guitar throbs that he affixes to Ramsey Lewis’ “Les Fleur” on the sublime “Good Morning Night”. However, though Kimani’s against the grain approach behind the boards is oft-times refreshing, the varying tempos that distinguish his production style has a too frequent tendency to clash (“Before All Hell Breaks Loose”) with his own and Oracle’s lyrical deliveries.

The Masterminds maturation on Stone Soup is evidenced by their willingness to discuss more life affirming topic matter. While Oracle continues to be the group’s lyrical anchor, both emcees shine on the post 9-11 ode (“September In NY”), and the moving “2 Moms”, where Kimani uses conventional methods to uplift Mom dukes and Oracle totally flips the script by weaving a haunting “Sixth Sense” narrative on the countless son’s that lost their mothers due to the slave trade.

Since 9-11, hip-hop has seemingly begun to undergo a reconstruction, with the focus slowly shifting from excess back to issues of importance. While we as hip-hop fans have a tendency to place undeserving emcees on a pedestal, one of the Masterminds main attributes is their ability to not only speak to us about issues that we can relate too (accumulating debt, school loans, being grossly underpaid), but as peers that are able to personalize the same day to day stresses that keep us hustling to keep food on the table. Consider this, while your favorite thug emcee speaks with gun claps and romanticizes fast money, the Masterminds shed light on what’s truly important with “Good Morning Night”—-”we only got one life to live, try to make it right for my wife and kids.” Props.

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