I recently said, “rap was better when it was more violent.” And I didn’t mean laughable, mindless shock core – more a harkening back to an era when crews like NWA and Public Enemy charted Billboard – when even The Teacher himself found it necessary to tote a tech on BDP’s second album cover – when hip-hop was aggressive and urgent, less touchy-feely. Emotional overflow nowadays seems to have supplanted the lyrical beatdown. How many more Drake/break-up or Yeezy/insecurity verses do we really need? (The answer is ZERO) Enter the bitch slap that is La Coka Nostra.
At its inception, details of the crew’s membership were hazy. Was it House of Pain plus Non Phixion plus Jedi Mind? Who was Slaine? Was this the incarnation of a white Wu-Tang come to level the playing field once and for all? Yes and no. Masters of the Dark Arts features a pared down roster. While HOP’s Danny Boy is still officially in the crew, Ill Bill and Slaine are the focus. Bill keeps his cult-leader status intact and constantly reminds why it’s a damn shame Non-Phixion only released one official album. Southie progeny Slaine (who you may recognize as the down ass white boy from the quality Ben Affleck films Gone Baby Gone and The Town keeps up with Bill through every turn of every grizzly narrative and shows and proves his way to some much-deserved props. The two trade gems like old sparring partners, and with all the sonic density and verbal dexterity showcased on MOTDA, it seems to be the money formula.
Again, violence for violence’s sake can get tiresome. I love me some Necro but, now that I’m a father, the opportunities to bump “Your Fucking Head Split” seem fewer and farther between. Bill and Slaine seem to get this, as reflected in their story-telling chops on joints like “The Eyes of Santa Muerte” and “Malverde Market.” DJ Premier lends production on the stand out “Mind Your Business” and cohort Vinny Paz swings through for the pensive “My Universe” and the bust-your-shit “Coka Kings.” DJ Lethal, Statik Selektah and others man the boards while Sean PEEE, Thirstin Howl III and Sick Jacken come through to bless the mic. But unlike a lot of “group” albums, La Coka’s sophomore effort never feels scattered or clogged. Every bit dense, intense and focused as it is violent (thank God), Masters of the Dark Arts unfolds as one of the year’s most rewarding hip-hop records.