Since 2001, the Justus
League has given North Carolina
some of the most attention it’s ever received outside of basketball. Franchise
trio Little Brother–emcees Phonte and Big Pooh, and producer 9th
Wonder–has been dubbed by backpackers and critics alike as the new
millennium version of classic alternative acts like De La Soul and A Tribe
Called Quest, while 9th has sold
his sample-driven backdrops to everyone from Jay-Z to Destiny’s Child.
Accordingly, these successes have drawn attention to releases by the rest of
the crew’s talented members, and have spawned a working relationship with New York’s veteran Boot Camp Clik. With their first all-in
effort, Soldiers Of Fortune, the Justus League continues their good run
while releasing a perfect introduction to all of its representatives.
expectedly churns in two winners, but the fashion in which they deliver them is
as unpredictable as Ron Artest
without his medication. “Life Of The Party” sees Phonte and Pooh trading
in 9th’s soul samples for Nottz’ see-sawing synthesizers, and “Back
At It” brings street emcee Cormega
along to trade punch lines over a beat by Buckwild,
another new collaborator. Otherwise, the League’s
two most well-known members, Phonte
and 9th Wonder, have noticeably
limited contributions to the disc–9th
Wonder offers a sparse (albeit dope) two beats to the album, and including
the aforementioned LB tracks, Phonte only has three appearances.
Fortunately, other proven group members handle the slack by alternating between
sturdy solo displays like Joe Scudda’s
“Secret” and harmonious joint efforts like Big
Pooh and L.E.G.A.C.Y.’s “Basic.”
In-house producer Khrysis also
continues to earn his keep and battle 9th
for the crew’s “Best Producer” title, lacing an epic-sounding down-the-line
joint with “Tour Of Duty” and bleak, melancholy strings for the duo of Chaundon and L.E.G.A.C.Y. as The Embassy
on “Seeing Is Believing,” plus five other tracks.
While not as strong as the team veterans, JL newcomers also hold down Soldiers Of Fortune respectably.
Lyricist Jozee Mo spits charismatic
braggadicio on both the solo joint “Feelings” and the Pooh-assisted “Try Me Again,” while relieving stress with Sean Price and singer Kal Royal on “Tired.” Newly-installed
resident beatmaker E. Jones backs Scudda, Chaundon and Phocuz with
multi-layered heat on “Moving Fast,” and though he’s not an official Justus League member, affiliate Skyzoo contributes highlights with his
own “S-K-Y” and various cameo verses.
While certain tracks on the disc aren’t as good as the
others, Soldiers of Fortune is void
of blatant wack moments and full of material to hold you over until new
releases from Little Brother, 9th Wonder and the rest of the members.
On “Life Of The Party,” Phonte
spits, “We all on one page, we all on one
accord.” And their harmony equals audible bliss.