In the early '90s -- around the same time the Wu-Tang Clan were gestating --
a similarly talented and large crew of abstract, roughneck ghetto
goofballs were also laying out their battle plan, closing their ranks.
Their name was the Boot Camp Clik, and they were kind of like the evil
cousins of the Wu-Tang Clan, though it's debatable as to which crew was
Both crews had boatloads of talented MCs, both were from New York, both favored string-laced, dark and dirty, dub-influenced production methods. And
both were hailed as saviors of the underground.
But where the Wu-Tang prospered in their anarchy, staying together
despite the odds stacked against them (nine-plus unorthodox individuals
and loose cannons bouncing off the walls), the Boot Camp Clik -- as it
existed in its heyday -- fragmented and fell apart. The flagship Boot
Camp Clik act, Black Moon, disintegrated under legal and personality
pressures, leaving a slew of individual acts to pick up the pieces,
namely Smif-N-Wessun (now Cocoa Brovaz), Heltah Skeltah and a crew going
under the name Boot Camp Clik (which, unlike the Wu, does not include
all the members of the Clik's extended family).
As part of that esteemed Boot Camp Clik, Heltah Skeltah has a lot to
live up to and, for the most part, they consistently deliver the goods.
Over the course of their two albums, Nocturnal and their new
Magnum Force, Ruck and Rock (great names, huh?) have rocked jeeps
and caressed ears with their bass-heavy, trippy and cinematic sound,
serving up songs that stand up to earlier Black Moon classics like "I
Got Cha Opin (remix)" and "Who Got the Props." Songs such as
Nocturnal's "Therapy," "Soldiers Gone Psycho" and "Leflaur Leflah
Eshkoshka" stand as freaked-out sonic documents that mix psycho-delic
sounds, rubbery beats and brain-damaged rhymes.
For those who have heard Nocturnal, there's almost no need to
listen to Magnum Force after they announce at the beginning, "It
got to be just like the last album, only better."
It is just like the last album, and though it's not worse, it's
not necessarily better either (which isn't bad, since Nocturnal
was pretty damn good).
Sticking to a tried and true sonic and lyrical formula, the guys
announce on "Worldwide (Rock the World)," the album's string-laden,
slow-ish opening track, "We gon' rock the world/ rock the world/ if not
motherf--k the world."
Most of the time, as on "Call of the Wild," they immerse themselves
in the woo-woo horror movie atmospherics-n-strings favored by hip-hop
producers during the second half of the '90s. Translation: Many of
their songs fall within the midtempo, cerebellum-frying Wu-Tang
frequency range. In a world overcrowded by RZA production ripoffs, that
would be a bad thing were it not for the fact that Heltah Skeltah tower
above many of their peers, or at least stand shoulder to shoulder with
similar sounding groups like Mobb Deep and the Wu. Furthermore, Heltah
Skeltah -- as part of the Boot Camp Clik -- were part of the architects,
or at least subcontractors, of that super-stupid soundscape scam.
At times they escape the mid-tempo mind-on-mushrooms groove and pump up
the jam a few notches, such as on the bouncy "I Ain't Havin' That,"
which opens with the lines, "It's the rang/ forever like Wu-Tang/ my
crew brings drama/ hanging your ass upside down by your shoe string."
On Magnum Force, there are no missteps or surprises.
To their credit, at least they're being consistent, quality-wise, and
giving their audience what they want.