Back To Boot Camp ...

Method Man and Tha Dogg Pound make guest appearances.

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

more sinister.

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.