If you haven’t already picked up Vinnie Paz’s sophomore solo album, I’d highly recommend grabbing a copy. While it hasn’t even been out a week, I’ve probably listened to it three times by now. Then again my bus ride to work is pretty long.
What I like most about “God of the Serengeti” is that the album showcases all aspects of Vinnie’s rap ability. Songs range from political commentary and conspiracy theory-infused tracks to street bangers. An underground heavyweight and frontman of hip hop group Jedi Mind Tricks, “God of the Serengeti” is pretty similar stylistically to past JMT releases. While long-time Jedi Mind Tricks member and producer Stoupe left hip hop several years back, a slew of new collaborative efforts continue the classic Vinnie Paz/JMT. You’ll still find often obscure movie samples, bone-crunching bass-filled beats, and songs that simultaneously pack a punch and have punchlines.
The album opens with “Shadow of the Guillotine,” featuring Q-Unique. While there isn’t an official intro, there is a 39 second sample which serves to set up-tempo tone of the album. “Slum Chemist” follows up with a slower song defined by a crashing snare and drum beat over a Middle Eastern or Hispanic string loop. I really like how Vinnie went back to his early rapping style and abandoned the yelling technique which defined the last couple Jedi Mind Tricks albums, “Violence Begets Violence” and “History of Violence.” His slower flow lends him an air of confidence well-deserved for his time, effort and success over the years.
“God of the Serengeti” features a nice mix of guest artists and solos by Vinnie. Contributing artists are split between seasoned underground and mainstream veterans. Mobb Deep chime in on “Duel to the Death,” and Scarface makes an appearance on “Problem Solver.” Not surprisingly, many underground legends and JMT/Vinnie Paz collaborators show up, such as Immortal Technique, Apathy, Celph Titled, Jus Allah, and R.A. the Rugged Man. I was really glad to hear another track with R.A. and Vinnie trading verses. Paz’s 2010 release “Season of the Assassin” included “Nosebleed” with R.A. The contrast between Vinnie’s methodical gruff voice and Rugged Man’s rapid fire rapping is really mesmerizing.
If you want the full effect, grab a copy of the CD and listen to the whole thing. There isn’t really a bad song on the album. “The Oracle” is one of my favorite tracks, with a stepping stone keyboard sound and Notorious B.I.G. sample. Vinnie spits, “Raw raps from the same place where the kufi sits/He the mo’fucker always sippin’ goose and shit/Stomp a rapper out, Timberland boots and shit.” The other single from “God of the Serengeti,” “Cheesesteaks,” is also really fantastic. The beat will undoubtedly have you nodding your head contemplatively, while attempting to dissect Vinnie’s many references. He oscillates frequently between religious imagery, pop culture references, and clever wordplay. “Lion of war, Joseph Dredd, I am the law,” Vinnie drones, combining possibly religious imagery with a reference to Judge Dredd.
I’m also a huge fan of “Jake LaMotta,” a unique track with a 70’s era feel to it. To complete the effect, a funky sample from “Come Back to Me” by Cheyenne’s Fowler provides musical backing as well as the chorus, “I’m smokin’ my smoke, I’m tootin’ my coke, I’m drinkin’ my drink, ooh baby yeah.” As I mentioned earlier, “Razor Gloves” with R.A. the Rugged Man is a noteworthy track. Keep in mind this is not a song for the faint of heart, as if features ultraviolent lyrics which paint a picture of corrupt authority.
While all songs are worth a listen, if you only check out one track, take a look at “You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train.” The arguable highlight of the album, and a whopping 7:28 long, the song shows Vinnie’s dismal view of society and government. The narrative he weaves uses historical examples, beginning with Columbus: Columbus came ashore greeted with nothing but niceness/Sailing west in attempt to find gold and spices/Dominated by the popes in frenzy for ices.” Mainly he speaks out on oppression and slavery, dropping countless examples. Although it is a song, it is more like a dissertation. There are references to Thoreau refusing to pay taxes and resisting war, denunciations of the Espionage Act, and the slave trade. His material isn’t lighthearted, and he ends the song with some tough lines: “The war was over but they didn’t learn they lesson/Twin tactics of control, reform and repression/The patriotic fervor of war had been invoked/That’s why the country that you live in is a fucking joke.” Regardless of whether you agree with his ideas, you have to give Vinnie credit for using music to spread a message rather than create a club banger to make money. If you enjoy this track, check out his song “End of Days” from “Season of the Assassin.”