Soldiers Of Fortune

Artist: Hall Of JustusTitle: Soldiers Of FortuneRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Bill Zimmerman

In the music business there sometimes is no justice. Underground heroes Little Brother released a masterpiece on Atlantic Records in 2005 that failed to move units while less talented rappers blew up. No matter, LB presses on and continue playing for the home team. The Durham, N.C., based Hall of Justus includes the likes of Joe Scudda, The Away Team, Chaundon and L.E.G.A.C.Y., and LB isn't their meal ticket. Soldiers of Fortune (ABB) shows a team consisting of players that can all hold their own.

Among the winning tracks are "Jus' Chilling," a song that sounds like it would be right at home alongside the southern rap tracks burning up the charts with a solid beat from Majik and a chopped and screwed hook culled from Phonte's verses on the Little Brother song "Whatever You Say." LB's contributions are minimal but memorable. The lukewarm commercial response to The Minstrel Show had little effect on the guys' self-esteem as shown on "Life of the Party" when Phonte raps "I'm the cow's milk, I'm the bee's knees." The sense of humor is intact too. "We can't afford Cris,' frontin' like we boycott,” Phonte states.

"Back At It" featuring Cormega is another top cut thanks largely to the stellar rhymes of Mega: "Went from rock fights to picking bricks up/Stick ball to stick ups/Playin' cops and robbers to hatin' cops and robbers." His creativity could be a lesson to some of the new jacks who occasionally get bogged down in "I'll beat you're @ss and take your girl"-type boasts on the album. And declarations of material wealth sound out of place when the most popular group from the team is still cruising in the "Same, gray Nissan," according to "Life of the Party."

For all the different MCs and producers involved, Soldiers of Fortune is a fairly cohesive offering, but unfortunately few of the beats stand out. Khrysis handles production on nearly half of the project with others such as Buckwild, Evidence and Nottz filling the gaps with 9th Wonder contributing two tracks. However, it's a formidable producer list that doesn't really deliver.

The lyrics are the strong point with examples of witty wordplay throughout. You can forgive some of the over-the-top bragging since this is a collective of MCs continually proving themselves. They're definitely hungry. "Time is dollar signs and losing ain't optional,” Skyzoo proclaims on his solo jam, "S-K-Y."