Let’s face it, DJ Muggs hasn’t been relevant in years. The producer/DJ for, most notably, Cypress Hill in the ’90s, experienced his fair amount of peripheral, non-Hill fame working with the likes of House of Pain and Ice Cube on mainstream smashes “Jump Around” and “Check Yo Self,” respectively. He hasn’t been able to do anything worth its studio time since. His last release to receive any critical attention was 2005’s Grandmasters, a record he performed with the prolific GZA, of Wu-Tang fame. But it ultimately fell flat, due to GZA’s underwhelming rhymes and Muggs’ own lackluster production.
His latest effort Pain Language is a similar mash-up with a drastically less impressive MC, Planet Asia. Together they’ve taken on the name Pain Language. Needless to say, this record didn’t have much hope from the get-go. What’s worse is Pain Language’s insistence on sounding remarkably similar Muggs’ earlier GZA collabo.
Planet Asia (real name Jason Green, hailing from Fresno, California) has a nasally drawl similar to that of GZA, though lacking the girth and physicality of the Wu-Tang Genius. Most of the beats Muggs supplies are casual imitations of the Wu’s RZA. He relies on similar samples, soul hooks, and brooding minor keys. What really stands out about the record ‘s delivery, though, is the way that Muggs and Planet Asia aim to bring hip-hop back to a time when it was “magical”. Honestly, they’re billing this like an all-inclusive Disneyland vacation.
A friend once said of Nas’ masterpiece Illmatic that the reason it’s great today is the way it sounds old and new at the same time. Pain Language is completely unable to even approach this dichotomy. In Muggs and Planet Asia’s attempt to make hip-hop of mid-’90s flare and aesthetic, they rely on Planet Asia’s contemporary battle-rap stylings. The crackling, breakbeat of “9 mm” is ruined by its own, self-realizing chorus, “My new shit crushing you dudes / So bring your crew and watch my nine millimeter go bang.” Though Planet Asia does a good job of staying away from the beefing call-outs of contemporary hip hop, it’s hard not to hear a little 50 Cent braggadocio coming through — far from the “magical” days of hip hop’s past.
Planet Asia strings together some sonically impressive lines throughout the disc, relying on GZA’s signature internal rhyme and alliteration, but isn’t able to deliver much else. On the album opener “Sleeper Cell,” he flows, “Loyal plus royal big money from oil / Fly Arabic inherited soil.” He delivers similarly throughout the entire disc but rarely if ever wows with anything more than vaguely political lines and battle rap sloganeering (on “That’s What It Is” and the eponymous “Pain Language”). Muggs’ beats, unfortunately, stagnate from the start, each track carrying one or two looped samples that, while interesting, can’t keep our attention for the playing time of the track, amidst Asia’s mostly inconsequential rhymes.
Pain Language remains then, another failed attempt for DJ Muggs to grab hold of the success and sonic intelligence he had with his former endeavors. This disc may come to diehard fans as a welcome addition to Muggs’ storied catalog, but for those that couldn’t care less about Muggs, this won’t change your opinion. Like, at all.