Masters of the Dark Arts marks the return of La Coka Nostra, a rap supergroup who were last heard from in ’09 on their then long-awaited debut album A Brand You Can Trust. LCN had originally assembled sometime in ’05 as a much larger entity than they are today. With a large contingent of Caucasian members in tow, the original crew showcased the paler side of underground hip-hop at time—boasting members of Nonphixion, Special Teamz, and a reunited House of Pain. Over a series of mixtapes and singles, the group would swell in size to accommodate guests from the likes of Soul Assassins, Psycho Realm, Cypress Hill, the Arsonists, and Jedi Mind Tricks, as well as misdirected “rappers” from DMS; the NYC crew associated with thug-ish metalcore acts like Skarhead, Crown of Thornz and Madball, among others. Since then, they have trimmed the fat so to speak—Everlast has departed, presumably to go back to making less than mediocre acoustic-guitar-folk-blues-rap or whatever, and Big Left’s (of DMS) contribution is limited to a singular verse. That is not to say there aren’t an few key guest spots (Vinne Paz, Sean Price, and Thirsten Howl III all make appearances) but it’s primarily the group’s core—DJ Lethal and emcees Ill Bill, Slaine and occasionally Danny Boy—making most of the noise this time around.
Although LCN worked with a number of underground producers for this album, the selection of beats they chose work well alongside one another—most of them sinister, hard-knocking and ripe with cuts and crossfades—giving Masters of Dark Arts an interconnected texture. Sicknature laces two of the record’s most banging tracks—“Creed of the Greedier” and “38 ?????????.” Jack of All Trades provides a simplistic yet thumping drum ‘n’ string looped nod to old-school rap music on “Snow Beach.” Ill Bill and DJ Lethal step behind the boards for “Letter to Ouisich”, delivering a rattletrap that is both menacing and eerie at the same time, proving LCN is just as adept when keeping things in-house as they are when outsourcing.
In the time since A Brand You Can Trust was released, both Ill Bill and Slaine kept their skills sharp by continuing to pursue solo careers and other collaborative projects outside of LCN. Doing it at a time when the Internet is overrun with the rap version of arm chair quarterbacks and innumerable platforms where anonymity-based trash talking goes unchecked has given the two experienced emcees plenty of cannon fodder. On the album’s standout track, the DJ Premier-laced “Mind Your Business”, they take the opportunity to address social networking, rumors, critics, fans, and anything else that pisses them off. The gain on the mic is turned up high enough that you can actually hear the saliva flying out of Ill Bill’s mouth as he raps, “Yo I heard the rumors—people asking me why Nonphixion broke up? Did you and your brother (Necro) have beef? Did Erik (Everlast) ditch Coka?/Asking me all types of complicated personal shit/Weirdoes on Twitter gossiping about who’s version is legit…Fuck Facebook—in the real world, if you and me met, I’d sign your CD, snap a flick, and you’d respectfully step.” Slaine follows up, “Nowadays I gotta sit back and laugh at these dudes—frontin’ on the Internet but act like they criminals/We know the difference between who the bitches and girls are/I aint as rich as all them snitches at World Star/But I can spot a rat with a camera phone who only beefs when he is with his man ‘cuz he can’t when he is alone.” And what makes this song even more slamming, is that all this lyrical vitriol is coordinated seamlessly on top of Preemo’s signature boom-bap and impeccable turntablism, complete with the requisite Guru samples in the cut—it’s unadulterated hip-hop at it's best.
With Master of the Dark Arts La Coka Nostra’s pluperfect union of bombastic boom-bap, record scratching, and realism-based hardcore rhyming conjures up imagery of hip-hop before skinny jeans and hook-anchored club anthems took over the mainstream—those days when packs of thugs stood outside the corner store, in over-sized sweats and hooded parkas, smoking on Phillies Blunts and trading verses in the cypher, while Gang Starr instrumentals blasted from a nearby Jeep. Head-banging is absolutely required.
8.0 / 10
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