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With the exception of Wu-Tang Clan, which was introduced to the world fully formed, the concept of the hip hop supergroup is one that’s inspired plenty of anticipation with very little pay-off over the years. Putting several good emcees together has always seemed like a good idea, but whether the product couldn’t live up to the hype (The Firm) or never even got off the ground (Golden State, among others), disappointment has historically been the result more often than not.

So it was with equal parts excitement and skepticism that fans viewed the news that Slaughterhouse was going to come together for an entire album. Formed by Joe Budden for a song of the same name, there was no questioning the lyrical skills of Royce Da 5’9″, Joell Ortiz and Crooked I, and they sounded good together. But despite some promising cuts released in advance of the project, it was a fair question to wonder if the collective would hold up over a full-length release.

Fortunately, Slaughterhouse proves right from the opening track that they can be the exception to the supergroup rule. “Sound Off” is a lyrical call to arms backed by StreetRunner’s horns, giving every member of the group a chance to introduce himself with both slow and fast verses. Royce sets the scene with an apt Voltron comparison, Joell sums up the motivation by stating “Stay focused, that’s what I tell myself now and then / Don’t want to go back to that block, like where Varejao defends,” and Crooked boasts he’s “Pacquiao in the Philippines, the illest thing a nigga seen.”

Other highlights are equally inspiring. “Onslaught 2″ is the rare sequel that improves on the original, with each man passing the baton and Budden anchoring with lines like “See that bullet coming from around the corner like a shot from Angelina Jolie’s gun, think Joey’s the one.” The official lead single “The One” has a guitar-driven backdrop that seems a little out of place but still works, and “Cut You Loose,” while hardly the first examination of the ills of the record industry, is especially insightful because all four men have had their share of label drama.

The unstated fear of whether the beats can hold up to the rhymes turns out to be mostly unfounded. There’s good work on the album from a team of producers that includes DJ Khalil, The Alchemist and Mr. Porter, and every one of them brings something a little different to the table.

If anything keeps Slaughterhouse from becoming the five-star classic some hoped it would be, it’s that the superior energy level doesn’t stay consistent throughout. Some slower tracks drag down the second half of the disc, and one wonders if some more time in the lab would have helped smooth out the rough spots – the whole thing was allegedly recorded in less than six days.

Still, while the group may not have revolutionized the genre or broken any sales records, it’s still a treat to feel the vibe of four talented emcees trying to out-do each other on song after song. Slaughterhouse succeeds in doing what one of its skits suggests, bringing real rap back to the forefront, and that’s a worthy enough cause to hope these guys stay at it into the next decade. – Nick Tylwalk

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