11 December, 2008@7:24 pm
The term “helter skelter” is used to describe something that is in complete chaos or disarray, made infamous in the 1960′s by Charles Manson, who suggested his murder spree was in preparation of an apocalyptic race war by the same name. But Ruck and Rock boiled it down to simply “Heltah Skeltah means war”, with a number of mantras that ran concurrent through their 1996 debut, Nocturnal. Among these were also “let the madness begin” and “who want beef, well here’s war”; slogans that were repeated throughout the album’s entirety, lending their own interpretation of how the term applied to them.
The Duck Down duo did not have a successful follow-up with 1998′s Magnum Force, an album that tried to establish it’s namesake as a mini-crew within the Boot Camp Clik, overrun with numerous guest artists from the crew, but instead led to a break-up of Heltah Skeltah. While many of the other BCC albums released under the Priority banner at the time also received negative responses, the Duck Down posse found reinvention during the early millennial indie hip-hop movement. Ruck and Rock traveled in opposite directions, as Ruck stayed releasing 12inch singles on the indie scene, while Rock signed with DJ Lethal’s Lethal Records banner under Interscope, only to see his solo debut Planet Rock shelved as the label folded. Ruck reinvented himself as Sean Price, releasing a string of successful solo albums to a new generation of fans that weren’t even aware of the history of Heltah Skeltah.
With Sean Price being so successful in the underground, it was only a matter of time before things came full circle, leading to a Heltah Skeltah reunion LP. From the album’s title, D.I.R.T. (Da Incredible Rap Team), you can see things are back to the group’s trademark sense of humor, as the album poses them as Pen & Pixel styled superheroes. The album opens with “Everything Is Heltah Skeltah”, which borrows it’s melody from a classical music selection, as Ruck and Rock tag team with a barrage of humorous battle raps, the likes of which we haven’t heard in hip-hop in a long time. The lyrical onslaught continues on “The Art of Disrespekinazation” as the duo trade verses over a looming beat by Khrysis, then on the apocalyptic “Da Beginning Of Da End”, with plenty of laugh-out-loud, rewind moments. This formula of rap song is what propelled the group’s debut, Nocturnal, into an underground classic (save “Therapy”), and it continues throughout the duration of the record.
This works for and against the group, however. HS aren’t trying to make conceptual songs about anything in particular; instead they are like two boxers constantly hitting you with left-jabs and right-hooks. That being said, what separates each track from one another isn’t subject matter, but instead selection of beats, as you can count on strong lyrics in just about every song. Both “D.I.R.T.” (produced by Khrysis) and “So Damn Tuff” (prod. Ill Mind) incorporate classic hip-hop vocal samples with newer styles of production, keeping the spirit of Brooklyn alive in these more modern styles of beats. Marco Polo lends perhaps the album’s best track with “Insane”, with dark pianos and a creepy female vocal sample that haunts the track.
However, with this new team of producers, it is hard to compete with the classic style of The Beatminerz that helped make Nocturnal a classic. It evident that in this market, underground rappers like Heltah Skeltah are not going to spend any money on expensive production, and during the album’s latter half, it shows. The last few tracks produced by up-&-comers like M-Phazes, Stu Bangas, and Sic Beats, really lowers the bar set by the first half of the album’s production, which even that is not up to par with beats from the BCC’s catalog.
With an oddball sense of humor, mixed with bullet ridden gun-talk, these two are an 80′s action film come to life on the mic. The album is a return to form for the crew after the disappointment that was Magnum Force, as the two are back to doing what they do best, trading hilarious rhymes. Despite sometimes weak production on D.I.R.T., Heltah Skeltah live up to the album’s name, and are two incredible emcees whom are wildly entertaining to listen to. – D.T. Swinga
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