Souls of Mischief 

Montezuma's Revenge

Much ado has been made of the creative process that spawned Montezuma's Revenge, the latest from Oakland hip-hop crew Souls of Mischief. It's an old-school journeyman's album, produced over the course of a year in a house near Point Reyes. The beats are beautiful — mostly soul- and blues-based, with artfully chosen samples. The rhymes, meanwhile, sound over-rehearsed.

Souls of Mischief are not great extemporaneous speakers, or terrific spinners-of-yarns. The song "Tour Stories," for instance, should be gossipy travelogue about whatever mayhem rappers commit when they touch down in a foreign land. Instead, it makes the tour sound formidably boring. But other songs show the group's cohesion. Montezuma's Revenge has no guest artists, so it's really the work of four MCs who grew up on the same turf and started rapping together as teens. And that long-standing camaraderie shines through.

Not to mention that the album has several inspired moments. The bad-girlfriend song "Lickity Split" exemplifies the type of rap in which Souls specialize: a common-man story for the uncommonly handsome man. It's funny, it's cranky almost to the point of being obnoxious, it's got a good beat. That's nothing compared to "You Got It," which includes a sordid description of STD symptoms. Nasty. After two decades in the game, these guys still have a sense of humor in tact. That's more than anyone could hope for. (Hiero Imperium)

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