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Ghostface Killah, ‘Shaolin’s Finest’ (Epic) / M.O.P., ‘Greatest Hits: 10 Years and Gunnin’ (Columbia)

Ghostface Killah and M.O.P. both emerged in the mid-’90s, during the same crime-rap renaissance that made icons of Nas, Biggie, andMobb Deep. They both lurked in the shadows of larger crews–Ghostface played the wall with the Wu-Tang Clan, while M.O.P. studied under Gang Starr. And now, after years of probing street life’s nooks and crannies, they’ve left their respective record labels to smoke the greener grass of the Def Jam empire. But first it’s out with the old on two contract-fulfilling best-of collections.Shaolin’s Finest is a chronological tour of Ghostface Killah’s first three solo records. As a summary of an artistic evolution nearly unparalleled in hip-hop, it’s worth its weight in Wallabees, charting Ghostface’s thrill-ride career arc from the somewhat pedestrian (but still spine-tingling) “Daytona 500” to the soaring abstraction of tracks like “One” (from 2000’s masterfulSupreme Clientele. But the Killah has produced little filler over the last decade, so this 12-track disc feels frustratingly cursory. And given that many of Ghostface’s finest songs (including bootleg favorites like “Good Times”) have been lost to sample-clearance disputes, a Lost Tapes-style flushing of the vaults would have been handier.

The ten-song 10 Years and Gunnin’ has a higher utility factor, since many of M.O.P.’s current fans didn’t hop on the Brownsville express until after 2000’s “Ante Up (Robbin Hoodz Theory).” An adrenaline shot that ranks with the bank-robbery scene in Heat and “Carmina Burana,” “Ante” is one of the great jump-out-of-your-skin moments in the history of hip-hop, if notmankind. It’s here–along with its so-so remix, early classics like “How About Some Hardcore?” (Don’t mind if I do!), and the 1998 Jay-Z collabo “4 Alarm Blaze.” Flame-retardant speakers not included.



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