Where Heltah Skeltah's 1996 debut used understated melodies and utilized MCs Rock and Ruck’s deep, dark voices to create an ominous atmosphere, "D.I.R.T." settles for a lot of horror-show hambone antics (are they really wearing Dracula capes on that cover…?), with music supplied by a bevy of underground producers who seem content to indulge this Vincent Price jones with gothic organ lines and stuttering beats.


 

 

When Heltah Skeltah’s debut album "Nocturnal" came out in 1996, hip-hop heads had high hopes that they would be one the better groups to emerge from the underground. Bringing production pedigree via their Boot Camp Clik association with the Beatminerz, and boasting a tag-team MC flow that rivaled some of rap’s greatest duos, it was a dark, grimy midnight trip through Brooklyn.

Then came their sophomore effort, 1998’s "Magnum Force," which was less coherent, bringing in a bunch of unknown producers and MCs from the pair’s Magnum Force Crew. Following a split, half of the group, Ruck, released a decent string of records as Sean P (where is the Rock solo album??), and "D.I.R.T." represents their first record as Heltah Skeltah in a decade.

Unfortunately, the cover art – which looks like an old Master-P-style, Pen & Pixel album cover with a Halloween superhero theme – tells you most of what you need to know about the songs it contains.

Where "Nocturnal" used understated melodies and utilized Rock and Ruck’s deep, dark voices to create an ominous atmosphere, "D.I.R.T." settles for a lot of horror-show hambone antics (are they really wearing Dracula capes on that cover…?), with music supplied by a bevy of underground producers who seem content to indulge this Vincent Price jones with gothic organ lines and stuttering beats.

"D.I.R.T." apparently stands for “Da Incredible Rap Team,” and while it’s definitely nice to hear Rock and Ruck back together for a whole album, their gruff flows don’t really pair up that well with the production. Up-and-coming producers like Black Milk and 9th Wonder have done work with Ruck on his solo albums, and it’s a shame they weren’t used here.

Heltah Skeltah and the rest of the Boot Camp Clik seem to have made a permanent break from the Beatminerz, for the most part, and it’s too bad. Without a solid musical backdrop, what could have been a great third album ends up having a slapdash feel that starts with the cornball cover and continues well past its three or four decent tracks.

Listen to samples from "D.I.R.T." at Amazon.com.

Sussex Countian