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Servants In Heaven, Kings In Hell

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Album Review

Vinnie Paz, Jedi Mind Tricks' MC, has always interspersed political statements in his rhymes, but usually he chooses to focus more on his own pain and anger instead of going on specific and directed diatribes. Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell, however, is the most overtly socially conscious and critical album that the group has ever made. Along with tracks that speak directly about slave labor ("Shadow Business") and the Vietnam War ("Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story," which features a great, intricate verse from R.A. the Rugged Man), the entire record is interlaced with references to the conflicts in the Middle East, terrorism, and religion, even in the songs where Paz speaks about his own problems. "When All Light Dies," about violence in America, among other things, contains the line "I'm ready to go to war with [the police] like we Iraqi.../Don't make me...put the flame to them/And slug it out like the Israelis and Iranians," the MC trying to highlight domestic issues (including the ones in himself) as much as the foreign ones. Paz, like always, is obsessed with death, especially his own, but his consciousness of the conditions in the rest of the world seems to have given him the resolve to not give up completely. This feeling is seen in the two songs on the album in which he talks about suicide, "Black Winter Day" and "Razorblade Salvation" (preceded by a fantastic interlude in which Richard II is quoted), which features a Sufjan Stevens sample and vocals from Illinoisemaker Shara Worden and takes the form of a letter to Paz's mother. But unlike Eminem's "Stan" — which was a clear inspiration — this song ends in the decision that despite the fact he feels like he's "cancerous," there are enough reasons that warrant him staying alive.

The production only helps to accent the emotion that Paz conveys. The beats — strong, hollow drums — are interlaced with classical strings and Sicilian folk guitar and news clips. "Shadow Business," a compelling and affecting song about the horrors of sweatshops that doesn't come across as preachy, loops a woman singing chillingly in Italian, "Solo tu vuoi salvarmi, ricordati/Anche se ho sbagliato, perdonami" ("Only you want to save me, please remember/Even though I made a mistake, forgive me"), a quasi-subliminal call to arms, and a chorus that questions existence if one is "living in hell." It's direct, but it's also subtle, placing blame not only with the factory owners but also with all of us who choose to ignore these conditions. "And while we sit around debating who the whack MCs/They have to work when arthritic pain attack the knees," Paz states, accusing everyone of the situation's perpetuation. Like how Wu-Tang appealed to so many different fans because of both their hard, urban beats and their smart, complex lyrics, so too are Jedi Mind Tricks able to achieve that same status. Stoupe's production is heavy yet musical, and Paz's rhymes are intelligent yet accessible, his voice rough yet his delivery smooth. Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell is the collaboration of two talented musicians who can create a nearly flawless album in which each track can stand on its own, but is more powerful as a whole, as an exploration of pain and hatred, of those feelings that we often don't wish to address but that, thanks to Jedi Mind Tricks, will be addressed for us.


Formed: Philadelphia, PA

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The underground hip-hop duo Jedi Mind Tricks started out in the streets of Philadelphia in early 1996. Friends since high school, producer Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind and MCs Vinnie Paz (aka Ikon the Verbal Hologram) released the Amber Probe EP in 1996 and, one year later, gained a cult following with the full-length Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological & Electro Magnetic Manipulation (which was reissued in 2003 courtesy of the Babygrande label). Released in 2000, the sophomore effort Violent by Design...
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Servants In Heaven, Kings In Hell, Jedi Mind Tricks
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