The Masterminds - Stone Soup      
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written by Ali    
Science rules the world, be it ours or the world of hip-hop. The experimental and the progressive seem to gain the greatest attention for inventing new styles and concepts. While some [think Anticon] receive a great deal of scrutiny for their relatively advanced styles, there are some groups and artists that push the traditional limits of hip hop and do it well. Kimani Rogers and Tarik Holder of NYC's Masterminds have created their own original niche with the release of their latest album "Stone Soup."

The two emcees break away from the initial style they established on "The Underground Railroad," their first official album, in favor of a more evolved sound. Rogers undertook the labor of creating the beats for "Stone Soup," and his varied taste in music is evident in the heavy rock and soul influence throughout. The employment of heavy guitar riffs and increasingly complex beats set a tone for the album, yet it fails to fall into the often-monotonous rut of a concept album. Although similar samples are used from song to song, by no means is "Stone Soup" to be considered a concept album; there is similarity to the solidity of both the rock presence and consistently hard-hitting drum loops, yet Rogers manages to make each song distinctive in terms of its instrumentals.

Along with the supreme craftsmanship that is evident in the musical component, the lyrical performances of Rogers and Holder match the standard they set instrumentally. Their verses are subtle in content and delivery, therefore avoiding the creation of abrasive sound from overly dense beats and lyrics together. Their rhymes are both natural and skillful, their flow consistent and polished. Lyrically speaking, both emcees are a bit understated, but under no circumstances do they get lost behind their strong beats. They maintain a vocal presence without becoming overly aggressive in trying to compete with their instrumentals ΰ la El-P, for example. Also notable is the strength of the hooks on each track. A good chorus is difficult to find, but those on "Stone Soup" are simple, catchy, and creative, making for a well-rounded collection of music.

The tracks on the album are consistent, leaving no standouts, good or bad. I personally find it increasingly difficult to find albums that I can listen to in their entirety, but I can put this one on and let it play through without getting bored. "Subliminal," the title track to the 12", is fantastic and on par with the album's other cuts. "Morning Star" and "September in New York," both outstanding tracks, feature samples of female vocals, but stray from the typical R&B hook in favor for a more eclectic feel. On "2 Moms," the emcees manage to be effective on a sentimental tip without getting cheesy. The transition from hard-hitting to softer beats flow naturally towards the end of the album, with the only minimally disappointing track being "Before All Hell Breaks Loose."

In all honesty, this is one of the best albums I've come across in a long time. It incorporates all the necessary components of a successful album and devotes significant attention to perfecting each of them - instrumentals, hooks, verses, and production. Maybe "slept on" is a phrase that is thrown around too easily these days, but it's certainly true for "Stone Soup." Simply put, these emcees know what they're doing, and they use their sound fundamental talents to push the limits of modern hip-hop and manage to impress. I can't stress enough, go cop this album.

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