In the mid ‘90s, Pete Rock and Smif N’ Wessun represented somewhat opposite poles of New York’s burgeoning backpack scene. Pete brought the grooves with his soulful horns and subtly layered tracks, and Boot Camp stalwarts Tek and Steele brought the grime with their no frills deliveries and stone faced street stylings. In keeping with the recent trend of seemingly unrelated golden era acts joining forces, the vets come together to deliver a spirited homage to ‘90s hip-hop in all its glory.
If Monumental feels more like a Pete Rock album featuring Smif N Wessun than a pure collabo, it is with good reason. The sonic template mirrors that of all of Pete’s post CL full lengths: long and eclectic guest list with each track tailored to fit its featured spitter. But, while the tracks tend to be owned by the guests, the consistent presence of Tek and Steele gives this project a cohesiveness largely lacking in 2004’s Soul Survivor II and 2008’s NY’s Finest. They spit with requisite screwfaced street menace alongside a focused Raekwon on the bass heavy banger “Prevail,” and floss with laid back swagger with Memphis Bleak on the summer ready “Top of the World.” Even better is the brooding mid-tempo after hours soundscape of “Nighttime,” anchored by fellow Boot Camp alum Buckshot, who seems right in his element, settling into the crevices of the track like warm syrup on waffles.
As a project molded around its guests, Monumental could have benefitted from a little more star power. For every outside the box highlight (Bun B’s immaculate Ridin’ Dirty era flow over the gritty boom bap of “Feel Me”), there is a head scratching, “where did they dig him up” moment (A tired sounding Black Rob on the plodding “Stand Up Guy”). “This One,” a tentative foray into faux reggae certainly could have benefitted from the steadying voice of occasional Boot Camp collaborator KRS-One, or Pete’s big cousin Heavy D, rappers who have successfully incorporated reggae influence into their flows for years.
While Monumental sticks safely to well traveled ground, the trip is more than enjoyable enough to inspire ‘90s heads to dig out the Walkman and the Timberlands for one more stomp down that trail, and not just for nostalgia’s sake. This is simply good hip-hop.