Jadakiss, 'Kiss of Death' (Ruff Ryders/Interscope)

Kiss of Death
Critical Mass
Label: Ruff Ryders/Interscope

by Chris Ryan

Let this be known from the jump: Listening to Jadakiss will not stamp your ticket to heaven. His second solo album offers little in the way of social commentary, colorful storytelling, playful humor--all the hallmarks that make albums by your average God's son or college dropout compelling. Straight outta Yonkers with a Lox/D-Block membership card in his wallet,Jada's an East Coast alpha male who deals exclusively in threats and boasts, shifting gears only to flex a catalog-like knowledge of guns, ammo, and fine automobiles. That said,he's one of the four or five best MCs breathing.

He knows it too: "Fuck riding a beat, I parallel-park on the track." With all due respect to the recently "retired" Jay-Z, Jada is rap's preeminent formalist: It's not what he says, but how he says it. In a voice honed on Hennessy, Purple Haze weed, and (apparently) the occasional handful of metal shavings, the self-described "Gemini nigga with mood swings" punishes this collection of top-shelf beats with surgical precision. Every line snaps with menacing wit and morbid humor: "Are you a thug or a dummy? I'm neither / But I've been hot so long it feels like I got a fever."

There's a gloomy cloud hanging over this album in places (seethe introspective "Still Feel Me"). And Jada's veteran standing--his trio the Lox hooked up with Bad Boy in the mid '90s--has given him a bit of perspective. "The Bible starting to make more sense to me," he says at one point. But quality time spent with the Good Book has not dulled his edge: Jadakiss attacks these tracks with eyebrow-scorching energy.Over Scott Storch's diet-Dre string stabs and a Nate Dogg hook (can you buy those at Target yet?), Jada proclaims himself"in the hood like bootleg movies." The Neptunes and Kanye West coax the clubgoer out of the 'bow-thrower with"Hot Sauce to Go" and "Gettin' It In," respectively. But it gets no better than "Real Hip Hop," where Swizz Beatz loops a Curtis Mayfield sample into a careening roller coaster as Jada and his D-Block compatriot Sheek run punch-line relay races. Enjoy the ride; if there's a hell below, we're all gonna go.

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