Muggs Presents... The Soul Assassins (Chapter I) by various artists

Columbia

IN THE GAME of hip-hop, producers have taken MCs' place as rap's glamour position, and everyone's jockeying to be hip-hop's Quincy Jones. However, most recent attempts by producers to create "posse" albums have met with complete failure, the most recent of which was Dre's thoroughly underwhelming Dr. Dre Presents... The Aftermath.

Along comes DJ Muggs, the much-respected yet underrated music maker for California's Cypress Hill, with the compilation album of the year. Muggs Presents... The Soul Assassins features phat beats as only Muggs can turn them out, plus a rap Who's Who, including Dr. Dre, Wu-Tang Clan's RZA and GZA, the southern-fried flavor of Atlanta's Goodie Mob, Queensbridge rappers Mobb Deep, KRS One, MC Eiht, Wyclef (the unacknowledged creative strength of the Fugees), and a new Cypress Hill track.

The record's biggest surprise is how Muggs sculpts his music to perfectly fit each artist. In "Third World," the RZA/GZA cut, he begins with a sweeping string intro that wouldn't have been out of place on Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Goodie Mob's "Decisions, Decisions" needs only a simple beat and some harp notes to back up the Mob's heavy meditations. Wyclef's "John 3:16" is graced with a shivering string section and powerful lyrics ("Bit by the vampire/working for the mobster/2 shots to the head/now you swimmin' with the lobsters... live reality/don't get caught up in your fantasy"), and leaves one looking forward to a solo album from this talented musician.

Soul Assassins is a producer's dream come true, and Muggs's musical versatility takes one back to such phenomenal (and mostly forgotten) hip hop compilations as Diamond and the Psychotic Neurotics and Terminator X in the Valley of Jeep Beats. With a first effort as potent as this, it's difficult not to look forward to Chapter II.

 
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