There is plenty to love and plenty to hate about Jedi Mind Tricks‘ unmistakable brand of hardcore Hip Hop. Over the course of 12 years and five LPs, Vinnie Paz and Stoupe have dished out their fair share of intense, M.O.P.-esque battle cries over sweeping, epic production. But for every fan who loves their rugged never smooth stylings, there are those who can’t bear Vinnie‘s clumsy religious rhetoric, unending contradictions, and repetitive brute force battle raps.  Of course, Jedi Mind Tricks wasn’t always just Vinnie and Stoupe. Jus Allah was a member for their second and most heralded album; the underground classic Violent By Design. The trio turned duo have never truly recaptured the magic, as Vinnie is better taken in small doses and Stoupe‘s production often requires more finesse and less bully. After three albums apart, Jus has returned to the fold to play Al Tariq.

Stoupe has always been the star of the group, even if Vinnie is the face and voice. The beatsmith has shifted gears with each album, and while the production has always been high quality, it hasn’t always been the sound the fans wanted. From the Latin flavor of Visions of Ghandi to the inconsistency of Legacy of Blood [click to read], A History of Violence is the true sequel to Violent By Design that everyone has been waiting for. “Deathbed Doctrine” opens with a fury, setting the standard for a sound that resonates over 14 tracks. Stoupe concocts beats that are as rugged as they are exquisite, “Monolith” [click to listen] falls heavily into the latter and Paz has no trouble holding his own. Detractors can say what they will about Vinnie; right or wrong, they can’t deny the man has improved by leaps and bounds. Five years ago he would have sounded like a blind man fumbling with a bra on a track like “Monolith.” He is even more impressive on the album’s standout song “Trail of Lies.” His one-dimensional view of one time notwithstanding, Paz kicks some really real talk. The opening verse about the media’s impact on young girls ranks up there with “Before The Great Collapse” [click to read] and “Razorblade Salvation” as his best work. Of course it helps that he had one of the year’s most impressive productions to rap over. 

Past albums that have featured the likes of Kool G Rap [click to read], Sean Price [click to read], Ras Kass [click to read], Canibus [click to read] and R.A. The Rugged Man have led to many moments of the man of the house being out rhymed. JMT chose a more low-key cast of characters here with King Magnetic and Outerspace appearing along with a couple guest spots from Demoz and Block McCloud. Unfortunately, none of them do much to add to the proceedings. Block and King Mag undoubtedly fair the best over the ridiculous “Godflesh” [click to listen], but Demoz is completely outclassed by the rowdy strings of “Terror.” After three albums of Vinnie rolling solo on the mic, Jus Allah sounds a bit like a guest here. Sadly, the days of them complimenting one another is long gone it would seem, as Jus adds little, if anything, to the album. “Butcher Knife Bloodbath” is vintage Jedi Mind article, but while Vinnie tears the beat limb from limb, Jus sounds like little more than a myspace rapper.

Jedi Mind Tricks have long been the kings of making albums and songs with titles that sound cool and have little to no meaning behind them (see Vinnie‘s explanation for Visions of Ghandi). A History of Violence might fall in the same category, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t appropriate. Stoupe‘s sprawling soundscapes could score a Genghis Khan biopic, and with Vinnie swinging his axe at everything in sight he rides along in stride. While Jus may have made his long awaited return, this isn’t their best album since his last because of his return. Jus has lost a step since the turn of the decade, and even though Paz continues to step his game up, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need a few quality crutches, and not having them on A History of Violence keeps it from hitting the next level. Nevertheless, it is their best album since their fabled sophomore set.