Artist: Jedi Mind TricksTitle: Violent By DesignRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Matt Barone
Heralded by underground heads and SoundScan ignorers as a classic when it originally dropped in 2000, Jedi Mind Tricks’ sophomore disc Violent By Design assaulted listeners with a clearly one-sided darkness that made commercial attention as likely as a Joe Budden and G-Unit collaboration. MCs Vinnie Paz and Jus Allah, backed by in-house producer and group member Stoupe, stormed out of the Philadelphia underworld to exercise their anti-conformist views with an uncompromising intensity. Now in 2004, Babygrande Records has re-mastered this infamous album, providing crisper sound quality and adding five bonus cuts in hopes of reaching previously unaware ears. Stoupe’s ability to craft multi-layered, rough-edged bangers is still evident, while the lyrical shortcomings of Paz and Allah unfortunately are even more noticeable.
Opening with the DJ scratches and somber mood of “Retaliation”, this album never abandons its pitch-black nature, drenched with consistent gloom and topics ranging from vicious battle raps to cryptic references to Christianity. “Heavenly Divine” sports steady flute notes and boasts the strongest verses that Paz and Allah deliver on the whole album, while “Muerte” engages with a melancholy beat bringing to mind DJ Premier after reading nothing but Stephen King. With such an overall unpleasant atmosphere felt throughout Violent By Design, Paz and Allah’s presence begins to suffer from monotony rather fast. Even though their styles compliment Stoupe’s unrelentingly hardcore instrumentals nicely, their lyrical content tends to become a bit too heavy for their own good and slightly exploits their verbal shortcomings. Thankfully, skilled guest shots from Bahamadia, Tragedy Khadafi, Louis Logic, and Mr. Lif provide much-needed moments of relief.
What has made this album such an applauded underground treasure is the flawless work presented by production wizard Stoupe. Putting together some of the most darkly intriguing beats ever heard on a rap album, Stoupe shines as the group’s crown jewel. The haunting vocal samples on “Exertions Remix” instantly hypnotize, and the militant ferocity felt on “Death March” could inspire even the softest of men to feel gully. “Gengis Khan” sounds as close to a battlefield that a song will ever bring you, while tracks like “Sacrifice” and “Trinity” captivate with arrangements combining everything from violins to pianos to eerie vocals, coming across like symphonies conducted by Lucifer himself.
Jedi Mind Tricks released the follow-up Visions of Ghandi last year, but the daunting task of surpassing the focus and hunger of Violent By Design seems to be the group’s mission impossible. An album as action-packed and extreme as this comes along very rarely, warranting a listen whether you prefer Chingy or stick with Non Phixion. Yes, the lyrics from Vinnie Paz and Jus Allah may feed into the nonsensical and one-dimensional stereotypes of underground rappers, but the production capabilities of Stoupe demand recognition. With his skills still on point, as evidenced by his recent Jedi Mind Tricks beats and his critically acclaimed Canibus Rip The Jacker project, one can only hope that Stoupe reaps the benefits of Violent By Design’s newfound buzz.