“Serial killers do on a small scale what governments do on a large one,” says a voice in the introduction to the Jedi Mind Tricks’ latest. “They are a product of the times and these are bloodthirsty times…”
Turns out the voice belongs to Richard Ramirez, the convicted serial killer dubbed the “Night Stalker.” The quote, while apt, is troubling when one considers the source. Over broken guitar and eerie atmosphere, Ramirez continues, carrying on about evil and whether or not he’s 100 percent evil.
A controversial start, to say the least, but Philadelphia’s Jedi Mind Tricks have never strayed from crossing the line. Violence Begets Violence is a step in the same direction in many respects, but there’s also some new flavour to consider.
First, Violence Begets Violence is without the presence of producer Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind. In his place are a slew of producers from Nero to C-Lance. This could have been an excuse to move on musically, but nothing the new cats bring really resonates that well. Tracks like “When Crows Descend Upon You” feature the same hefty crush fans are used to.
The combination of Jus Allah and Vinnie Paz is sharp and their exchanges are high-energy in the best of ways. They glide easily over the beats, but there’s something missing in the lyrical department. While they still provoke from time to time, the songs lack punch and seem to be competitions of cruelty rather than stimulating examinations of pressing concerns.
Indeed, the “how brutal can you be” lean in rap has been present since the days of NWA. The message of the streets has always been one of toughness and masculinity, with lyricists attempting to top each other with how violent and offensive their content can be. There is a point when that becomes dull, however, and NWA always had something more to offer beyond the fury. There was also context there, of lives in hell described not with personal braggadocio but with corrosive acceptance.
In the case of Jedi Mind Tricks, it’s sometimes tough to tell what makes these dudes want to toss in references to the deceased Pope John Paul II (“Fatal Arms”) or call a wealth of people “faggots?” Are lines about Charles Manson still effective? Do such threats still resonate? Is the indie record business really that shitty?
With all the potential generated by such an incendiary introduction, it’s sad to see Paz and Allah waste it.
Jedi Mind Tricks has been capable of some truly insightful content before, like with the blazing “Uncommon Valor (A Vietnam Story)” or “I Who Have Nothing,” but there’s nothing on Violence Begets Violence that matches those tracks. As good as “Design by Malice” sounds with its Mr. Green production, it’s lyrically feeble and brings nothing new to the table. The same can be said for “Chalice,” with its attempted reggae purée, and “Carnival of Souls.”
To some, those constantly on the lookout for more music to smash things to, this sort of material will always work and it will never get old. But for others, intelligence dictates that even the most underground of rap groups has to evolve sometime.