Pete Rock

Soul Survivor II

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Though by the mid-'90s he had earned his status as one of the finest producers in hip-hop, Pete Rock's solo career didn't get off to a good start. He split with C.L. Smooth in 1995 and moved back into independent production for several years, occasionally getting together a project with personal appeal, like his brother's group, InI. Finally signed to Loud/RCA for his first solo album in 1998, Rock called in fans and friends from Wu-Tang Clan to Kool G Rap to Beenie Man for a very promising record. Despite some great material, it wasn't a commercial success and he was unceremoniously dropped from the label (with one final disrespect: five years later, the Loud website was still proclaiming the release of Soul Survivor on November 10, 1998). More productions followed before he signed to Rapster, which treated him more like an artist than a meal ticket, and reissued some old projects (Lost and Found) before following through with the sequel to Soul Survivor. Surprisingly, Soul Survivor II is a much better record than the original, and the best production album Rock's ever done on his own. He's less reliant on hooks than in the past, instead content to simply recruit a cast of great rappers and give them enough to run with. And with more focus (i.e., fewer tracks) this time out, the quality level has gone up. On the second track, "We Good," Kardinal Offishall gets the high honor of Rock's best production (or at least, the most immediately gratifying), and doesn't let it slip with a barrage of dense but freewheeling rhymes. Next on the mike is Pharoahe Monch, the recipient of a classic Rock track (airy effects and slightly stuttered beats) called "Just Do It," on which he preaches self-reliance with informed lyrics. Pete Rock's two-song reunion with C.L. Smooth, "It's a Love Thing" and "Appreciate," illustrate that Smooth still has plenty of what originally gave him his name but hasn't come too far from ten years ago. More than any of his other records, Soul Survivor II displays Rock crafting his productions to fit the rappers -- just compare the tense track that drives the politicized "Warzone" for Dead Prez to the smoothed-out '70s samples and horns laid underneath GZA and RZA for "Head Rush."

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