Strong Arm Steady: Deep Hearted

After starting out as something of a side project for Xzibit, California mixtape superstars Strong Arm Steady have since moved on without their biggest star to join Talib Kweli on his new Blacksmith label. The crew may seem like an odd pairing with Kweli, butStrong Arm’s fans need not worry because the partnership hasn’t diluted their sound one bit; Deep Hearted (Nature Sounds) is all the way LA. Phil Da Agony, Krondon and Mitchy Slick may have a lot of New York affiliates, but they’ve stuck to their roots, and for good reason.All of those cameos are, in a way, part of the biggest problem with Deep Hearted; nearly every song has at least one guest rapper (and often more). While the series of fairly high profile features (including Xzibit, Kweli, Black Thought, Chamillionaire and Juvenile) are all fine individually, as a group they contribute to making Deep Hearted feel more like an expensive promo than a real album. Add that to the intro (Jack Nicholson’s opening monologue from The Departed) and the shout outs from both The Game and 50 Cent that are sprinkled into the tracks, Deep Hearted is just one annoying DJ away from being a mixtape.Still, as mixtapes go, this is a pretty decent one. The production is handled mostly by J Thrill and DJ Khalil, who are more of the DJ Quik school than Dr. Dre. “Wreckless Words” and “Blood Money” (both from Khalil) lay simple kick-drum/handclap beats under off-kilter keyboards and classic G-funk effects that fans of Tha Liks or Eastsidaz should latch on to immediately. “Clean Up” featuring Black Thought and Saukrates changes the mood with Madlib’s sample-based style, but doesn’t feel out of place. Also worth looking for is “Come & Get Me” which finds Strong Arm Steady going it alone without any guest MCs over a track that’s actually a bit reminiscent of recent De La Soul. Nothing stands out as especially bad, though there are plenty of passable but forgettable moments.If your album is basically just a bunch of random songs thrown together, they should at least be good ones. Luckily, That’s more or less the case with Deep Hearted, but the overall experience is still missing that “certain something” that would take it from analbum that you’ll bump a few times to something that will get regular rotation for months or years. Still, anyone who checks in out of curiosity won’t have their time wasted. SOUNDCHECK:Strong Arm Steady "Come & Get Me"Strong Arm Steady f/ Black Thought & Saukrates "Clean Up"