When looking at group of emcees as diverse as Royce Da 5’9″ [click to read], Joell Ortiz [click to read], Crooked I [click to view] and Joe Budden [click to read], there’s one common thread that stands out clearly more than any other – emotional lyricism. So when the four emcees decided to form a group together, it was no surprise that the men responsible for The Bar ExamBrick: The Bodega Chronicles [click to read], the Hip Hop Weekly series and Mood Muzik 3 would put forth an effort focusing on that particular aspect of emceeing. In Slaughterhouse‘s eponymous debut, there’s no doubt that the lyricism is there; the question is, does it result in quality music?

Although the comparisons are tempting, Slaughterhouse should not be viewed in the same light as another much-hyped “super-group,” the HRSMN. The latter, comprised of Ras Kass [click to read], Kurupt [click to read], Killah Priest [click to read] and Canibus [click to read] may be similar on paper, but Slaughterhouse‘s prolific musical output thus far suggests that their work will consist of more than a few guest performances and a limited-release album. In other words, this isn’t a side project, and the members of Slaughterhouse don’t treat it as such. This is evident in the blistering intro, “Sound Off,” where all four emcees answer to a roll call, with each verse being delivered at a slow pace initially, then exploding to lightning-fast rhymes. Royce and Ortiz shine the most here, and are sure to surprise even their biggest fans with their deliveries.

The aptly-titled “Lyrical Murder” is up next, as the foursome rhyme over menacing keys. It keeps the adrenaline racing, until “Microphone” takes it into overdrive. Alchemist‘s [click to read] trademark sinister synth keys provide the perfect backdrop (with Budden claiming the best line of the song: “Say ‘His mouth always runnin’ off’/ I tell ’em ‘Bridge or a tunnel – give a fuck how I come across'”). Fortunately, rather than beating the “murderous lyricist” shtick into the listener’s head, the significantly lighter “Not Tonight” provides a bit of a reprieve. Make no mistake, the song is still full of quotables, but the upbeat and soulful beat, courtesy of STREETRUNNER, gives the album a change of pace.

Things continue to head in another direction, as the excellent “The One” takes the album into completely different territory. Featuring a nice Lenny Kravitz sample, the consistently-underrated DJ Khalil provides Slaughterhouse a Rock-fueled canvas for the guys to wax about sex, drugs and Rock-and-Roll. Rhymes Crooked I: “I’m reckless with lead, Zepplin instead / Let’s get a keg, let’s split a mescaline and mess with your head / I’m sexin’ a lez and her best friend in bed/ I love these freak women, something in my denim need a kiss, call it Gene Simmons / They wanna ban me like Marilyn Manson / For all the whores in my Baltimore, Maryland mansion/ I’m the one who wants to spear Britney / Give Pink some black, put it near her kidneys / I’m the one who always cause an affair / So every time your bitch burp, you smell my balls in the air.” Coupled with a catchy hook from The New Royales, it’s easily one of the album’s most memorable cuts.

If Slaughterhouse stopped after track five, it’d be hailed as one of Hip Hop’s greatest EPs ever. Sadly, that’s not the case; beginning with an incredibly unfunny skit (there are actually three of them), the project takes all of its momentum and goes in reverse. “Cuckoo” [click to listen] isn’t deplorable, but certainly not up to par in terms of effort from the emcees. As baffling as it is disappointing, the crew decides to bring in Pharoahe Monch on “Salute,” – only to sing a hook – which is like hiring Dr. Dre not to produce, but merely to rap. Effectively, the middle third of Slaughterhouse is a significant drop in quality; fortunately, nearly everything after gets back to business as usual.

“Pray” and “Rain Drops” are clearly Slaughterhouse‘s most introspective tracks, with each rife with each members’ personal demons. Crooked‘s verse on the latter, in particular, is something to behold. “Cut You Loose” is an interesting take on a Hip Hop tribute, where each member of Slaughterhouse describes their love-hate relationship with the culture over soulful production courtesy of Mr. Porter [click to read]. It’s unfortunate that the album’s closer is “Killaz,” since it really is comprised of nothing more than stale, unimaginative tough-guy talk (and a horrendous hook).

Considering that most groups comprised of previously-established artists never amount to anything, the fact that Slaughterhouse is even out on shelves is a triumph. But rather than rest on their laurels and ride on the success (however limited) of their solo careers to get them through the album, it’s evident that Royce, Budden, Crooked and Joe rhyme like they’ve still got something to prove. Their formula hasn’t been perfected yet; but the talent, and (most importantly) the will are there, which is a promising indicator of things to come.