The Ground's The Limit

Mystikal, Snoop Dogg appear.

Prodigies aside, most kiddie acts have only one shot at fame, so it's

important that their debuts succeed in a big way. Most don't. In fact,

most end up as answers to game-show questions.

The Bomb and Ikeim the Dream, collectively known as Lil' Soldiers, seem

destined for the trivia graveyard. While their debut, Boot Camp,

has its moments, it lacks the hooks and rough-edged ghetto charm that

have made other young acts successful.

Now the good news: Freequon and Ikeim have flow. If you can hear past

their squeaky kid voices, you'll find that they rhyme as well as any of

their labelmates (admittedly, not a tough gig in some cases) without

cursing or relying on stereotypical street tales. In fact, they go toe

to toe with No Limit artists Magic ("Soulja Style"), Mia-X ("Tank In My

Hand"), Ghetto Commission ("I Ain't Living Right"), Short Circuit ("Mama

Needs A New Blouse"), Fiend ("For My Shorties") and Young Gunz ("Shout

It Out") -- managing not to be outshined by any of them. If -- and it's

a big if -- but if they can hold on to their careers long

enough for their voices to mature, it's just possible that the two will

have a future at No Limit.

The album's best track, "School On Lock"

(RealAudio excerpt), is the one song out of 17 that has the potential to

reach an audience beyond No Limit's fan base. The backing track has an

infectious, hyperactive bounce that wouldn't be out of place on a

Mystikal album. But lyrically is where "School On Lock" really pays off.

Being too young (one would hope) to rhyme about gang

battles or which city parties the hardest, Freequon and Ikeim give it up

for what they know: school. Grades one through six get mad love, while

everything from middle school up is dissed by omission.

Now for the bad news. No Limit's Beats By The Pound production team

continues to preach to the choir, cranking out the by-the-numbers bounce

beats and rolling funk tracks that make nearly every No Limit release

sound the same. The music on most of Boot Camp's tracks ends up

overpowering Freequon and Ikeim's voices. Just as bad are songs such as

"Where The Little Souljas At?"

(RealAudio excerpt), which lower the volume in an attempt to

spotlight the duo's voices. But these songs are too soft, and end

up sounding like what your little cousins might come up with if they were

to get ahold of a tape recorder and a programmable Casio.

Perhaps the title of this album -- Boot Camp -- is the most

succinct review. These buck privates show some promise, but for now they're

peeling potatoes and cleaning latrines -- building character in preparation

for more prestigious positions (unless, of course, they are discharged

before then).