It’s been nine years since we last heard from Souls of Mischief, a quartet of MCs and producers who hail from Oakland, California. While some members dropped solo records sporadically, its work as a whole has gained the most attention. That’s not discrediting any solo efforts. It’s more a testament of its ability to dazzle as a unit. Chances are you are most familiar with the group’s seminal debut 93 ‘til Infinity, which features the classic track of the same name. If you followed its progress, you know the Souls have had a touch of trouble following up its debut with a solid follow-up. That ends with Montezuma’s Revenge, a slightly bloated, though almost-great record overall filled with breezy West Coast vibes and technically impressive rhymes.
Producer Prince Paul gives a boost to the four-man crew. Paul, among other feats, helped propel De La Soul’s career in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. His fuzzy boom-bap is matched by beats from Domino and A-Plus, who aid in injecting funk and haze into the production. Killer opening cut “Won1” is driven by a blunted beat while “Postal” thrives on loops of strings and flutes. Then there are jazz-heavy “Poets” and ghostly “For Real Y’all”, which also features huge drums. It is clear Paul’s influence went beyond just the beats as a few of his hilarious trademark skits get thrown in, such as “Mr. Freeman Skit”. The MCs are just as prepared to show off, which they do flawlessly on lyrical workout “Proper Aim”. The aforementioned “Postal” proves just as impressive with its honesty about the opposite sex, as is the sun-on-your-face storytelling of “Home Game”.
But Montezuma’s Revenge hits a few speed bumps when its talented hosts can’t keep it together. “Tour Stories”, although lyrically fresh, nearly gets drowned by its hook, and “Fourmation” is a little too West Coast-cornball for its own good. Also, while Tajai, A-Plus, Opio, and Phesto are skilled MCs, they sometimes fall short in their rhymes. But these are technically gifted rappers who have always had a knack for flow and delivery over telling a story. Their hooks aren’t always engrossing either, which causes certain cuts to drag. Even with those hurdles, though, this remains a strong release from some of California’s finest underground artists.