Clever punchlines and witty criticisms only get Ruck and Rock so far on this disappointing third album from Heltah Skeltah.
If you are already aware of the emcees and producers who make up the Boot Camp Clik crew, you also know that Heltah Skeltah, or Ruck (Sean Price) and Rock, is one of the best acts on the roster. They are capable of wowing you with both their machismo and their wit, a pairing that creates some of hardcore hip-hop’s most rewind-worthy and stellar music. And as you might have already guessed, the rapping on Heltah Skeltah’s latest album is far stronger than the production. Although the array of beatmakers try their best to match the fire spit by Ruck and Rock, some of the productions simply do not work. As a result, Da Incredible Rap Team (D.I.R.T.) becomes an extremely unbalanced effort. After the eighth track, you would be wise to just turn this one off. If you are brave enough, you can try to stomach the rest, but be warned, the rest of the album is boring, uninspiring, and skippable. Even the best record in the world would be grounded by such duds as "W.M.D", a piano-laden hardcore stereotype, and "Ape Food", which has one of the worst beats on D.I.R.T.. Another track does make a run for that title, though, and that's the laughably dull "Hellz Kitchen". It almost seems like Evidence, a typically solid producer, had something to gain in putting down some of the most tinny and awful drums heard in years.
Besides weakening as it plays on, D.I.R.T. is worsened by the subgenre of hip-hop its hosts employ. Ruck and Rock’s hardcore take on rap ends up pigeonholing the emcees into a ditch they can crawl out of solely based on their creativity on the mic. And even then, both of them fall short in one rather disappointing area. They rely too heavily on spitting homophobic garbage, like inserting "faggot" into a punchline, which, at this point, should be deemed juvenile and foolish. Rappers who have to resort to using such terminology need to be chastised not only for their close-mindedness, but for their lack of skill. Rock tries to justify his and Ruck’s use of these terms on "Ruck N Roll", an otherwise solid track, but he comes across like a steaming pile of sophomoric testosterone rather than honest or real. Any clown with a mic and half a brain can spit angry, homophobic battle raps to inflate their ego. But Ruck and Rock succeed when they infuses humor into their bars. Otherwise, they just blend in with every other pissed-off rapper who has a basic drum beat and orchestral strings loop behind them.
Even with that rather large problem, part of Heltah Skeltah’s draw is hearing what they will say next; like the cringe-worthy, yet hilarious line "I got lip gloss stains on my dick from Lil’ Mama" from "The Art of Disrespekinazation". And interestingly enough, you will find yourself sometimes drawn more to Rock than Ruck, even though the latter is the more talented of the two. It's mostly because Rock’s voice demands your attention like an angry parent, whereas you will find yourself rewinding more verses from Ruck, who, as usual, steals the show as a lyricist. Rock does spit some "did he really just say that" lines, though, like the following bars from "That’s Incredible": "I'm renaming both of my hands laxative and colonic, they will smack the shit out of any n***a who want it." Like any good pair of emcees, though, they play off one another well, particularly on "That’s Incredible" and "Twinz". And that right there is what makes this duo an actual duo and not just two emcees spitting on the same track.
There are other moments of brilliance, like "Everything Is Heltah Skeltah", which has both of these tough guys spitting drink-spitting, ass-kicking rhymes. But above that track and the several others mentioned are "D.I.R.T." and "Insane", which have the emcees paired up with beats that can actually match their intensity and creativity. For "D.I.R.T.", underground monster Khrysis flips the sampled-to-death "Big Red" by Mountain for some hardcore-superhero-type-shit. If any track on here could receive some radio play by hip-hop heads and fickle listeners alike, this is the one. Although it’s not nearly as huge, "Insane" is just as great. Marco Polo laced the beat with a haunting vocal sample -- a smoky woman’s voice dragging out the word "insane" -- that Rock stuffs into his verses. Even for a commonly used tactic, Rock pulls it off like he was the first to do it.
These tracks, no matter how impressive, are unfortunately overshadowed by the aforementioned duds, which could have been left off to create an amazing EP. Instead, D.I.R.T. is an album only a mother, or a Boot Camp Clik-Stan, could love. And it might be true that Ruck and Rock, even at their worst, are better than most acts doing it today. But that is no excuse for two guys who are fully capable of doing something far greater.