Masterminds - Stone Soup
(Third Earth Music)
last we met our intrepid heroes (The Masterminds, stay with
me) they had released an impressive album, Underground Railroad
to much critical praise. It had everything that folks come
to indie hip-hop for, that spirit of fun and adventure that
has been sorely missing in most forms of popular music these
days. Underground Railroad was that most enviable of first
dates: a real looker, but with brains and has something to
say. It's safe to say that Masterminds brought a good deal
of new converts into their stable with that effort; which
is both admirable and fortunate, since this form of hip-hop
is very "first impression". The underground by definition
alone is almost completely fan-driven, so it's not as if they'll
be hiring Madison Avenue ad-execs to come full out for a future
Underground Railroad had the lyrics, had the beats, had the
cohesion to form a plausible foundation. They could easily
ride out the formula at work on that album for some time to
come and they'd get neither found out or get more than a slap
on the wrist. Perhaps one person saying "this sounds
exactly like they first album." This has become a small,
unspoken problem with the underground hip-hopper as of late:
for every groundbreaking "Cold Vein" there are several
other middling efforts in store; even considering the subversive
nature of the music. Maybe I should stop looking a gift horse
in the damn mouth, one might also say. True, I would take
a million good albums that share a bit too much of a similarity
with their forefathers than one friggin' Limp Bizkit release.
So, I suppose that accepting something a bit more than a sophomore
slump is the price I'll have to pay for avoiding the novelty-act
Or, I have another idea. What if more groups could follow
the example of Masterminds and completely blow everything
away with their subsequent releases? Let it be known that
Underground Railroad was a very good album, but Stone Soup
is a motherfucker. If Underground Railroad was a great first
date, Stone Soup would have to raise questions of love at
first sight. Yes, it's that complete an album and could
find itself on some Top 10 lists by the end of the year.
The Masterminds proved an understanding of "a spoonful
of sugar helps the medicine go down" on their first
album. Their songs were filled with messages of enlightenment,
but their beats were infectious and provoked many head-bobs.
They saw no reason to mire in heavy statements or to make
their music "accessible". It was both. But now
with Stone Soup, things have gone from better to best. The
Masterminds have done more than just make another good album;
they've found their own distinct sound. That such a feat
was achieved by the second album has to be a testament to
the work that obviously went into crafting it.
The backing beats on this one seem to encompass the psychedelic
production work of label Def Jux, namely El-P, with a nod
to the old school mixing of Eric B. and Boogie Down Productions.
If you can imagine that then you may have an understanding
of what's at work on this one. Spacy, deep, and eclectic
music that defines the mood of each song quite well. "Stone
Planet" will bring about visions of the Rock Steady
Crew ripping it up on some street corner in NYC circa early
80's, while "Good Morning Night" just hovers with
a very dreamy soundscape.
Lyrically, The Masterminds are quite grounded throughout.
The emceeing is forceful and skilled; there's never a song
where they decide to take it easy and let the music speak
for them. The delivery is a bit more traditional than some
of their contemporaries, and it definitely suits them. It's
either a great contrast or it fits in perfectly. The subject
matter is a bit more serious this time around with songs
that range from saving hip-hop from itself to the warrior's
spirit that grew in an ancestor after seeing his mother
kill herself rather than be enslaved.
Damn. If an album can pull subject matter like this off
without being overly weighted or self-righteous, then it
must be something special. Stone Soup is.