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Jadakiss, ‘Kiss of Death’ (Ruff Ryders/Interscope)

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.