Aptly-titled, Monumental brings together a legendary producer and two of the underground’s most revered MCs: Pete Rock—half of the duo (along with CL Smooth) responsible for early ‘90s classic Mecca and the Soul Brother—has been the monster behind the boards of your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper for a long-ass time; and Boot Camp Click members Tek and Steele— known collectively as Smif n Wessun—have been rhyming for some twenty odd years. Yes, the collaboration sounds good on paper but, believe me, it sounds even better on record.
Pete Rock—who does drop a few verses here and there—produced the entire album. His beats—whether well-crafted soundscapes or simplistic loops—are delicious slabs of head-nod shiz. As well, he flexes his DJ skills on nearly every track; revealing an impeccable attention to detail, as he drops samples from the Smif n Wessun back catalog into cuts throughout the record. SnW aren’t the only ones that get special treatment though. When Raekwon shows up to spit a few bars on “Prevail”, Pete flips the script to a Wu-appropriate beat that perfectly matches Rae’s signature flow.
On the topic of guest spots; there is a plethora. Memphis Bleak, Black Rob, Styles P, and SnW’s fellow BCC mates Rock, Buckshot, Top Dog, and Sean Price, to name a few. Price, on the track “That’s Hard” delivers the murderous-yet-clever-lyricism he’s built his rep on: “Slave master/I sell white girl/I don’t eat ham motherfucker/I might hurl…don’t give a fuck about nobody…Upstate New York is where I throw the bodies.” Bun-B nearly steals the spotlight on “Feel Me.” In typical Trill OG fashion, he raps: “It’s just one man, one gun, one clip, and one trigger/One second to die/And that’s comin’ from one nigga.”
Monumental is hot from the get-go, but things start to really sizzle about halfway through. “Roses” is on some real life & death shit. SnW and Freeway interweave dark tales of street life and missed opportunities, and pose hypothetical questions like, “What if B.I.G. and Pac made peace?/If you could say something to both of them, what would it be?/What about your brother who just got murdered?/When you was cryin’, do you think that he heard it?” Continuing further into the morbid, “Fire”—the first time on the album that Tek and Steele go at it as just a duo—is a journey through the mind of schizophrenic killers. The hook: “What’s right or wrong?/All my thoughts are lethal/I see dead people.” There are a number of dancehall nuances throughout Monumental, but it arrives full-force late in the album. SnW—who regularly flirt with Caibbean patois—and Pete—who is of Jamaican decent himself—are joined by Guyana-born toaster Jahdan Blackkmore for a well-constructed bashment riddim entitled “This One.”
Despite the vast array of guests, it’s really Tek, Steele, and Pete who shine the brightest. And they should, as this more or less a hat-tip to their respective careers. The argument could be made though, that Monumental is, in a larger sense, a tribute to a true craft. Hip-hop has existed in some form or another for nearly forty years now. But the era that true heads speak most fondly of is the mid '80s to the mid '90s. The Golden Age, if you will, was perhaps the most important time in the development of hip-hop. The '80s were about exploration and diversity, and the '90s…well, shit just got hard. Sure hip-hop has made strong moves in terms of popularity in the '00s and the '00-teens, but the focus has shifted from being skill-driven to more personality-driven. So it's exciting when an album like Monumental comes along that celebrates the original aesthtic of hip-hop laid forth in those early years.
8.8 / 10
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