Soul Survivor II
ummertime—barbecues, basketball in 75 degree summer heat, Saturday trips to the beach and boom boxes blasting the sonorous break-beat funk of Pete Rock. It feels appropriate that I should review Pete Rock’s Soul Survivor II just as the icy grip of winter has finally broken and summer has descended upon us. Ever since Mecca and the Soul Brother dropped, Pete Rock’s signature sound has been synonymous with the heat, the funk, and the spirit of the season.
Hip-hop has changed in so many ways since Pete Rock’s heyday in the early 90s; to some he appears an anachronism, a dated product of early 90s-era NYC-centric hip-hop, reliant on soul samples and funk breaks rather than the digitally-produced tracks that have made the early aughts another peak period for the continually evolving art form. But this album is so satisfying that I can’t hate; Pete Rock has long-since perfected sample-based production with layers of pianos, horns, guitars and of course that beautiful filtered bass, an expansive sound that submerges the listener and massages the soul.
Soul Survivor II is shorter, tighter and more focused than its predecessor. Pete Rock is “back in the lab” and it sounds as if he never left. He has remained buried in the crates, his fingers flipping through dusty vinyl sleeves, searching for the perfect flourish to perfect his next beat. Reinvention has never been Pete Rock’s strength; he prefers to polish his style, rework it, and perfect it. He continually pushes himself, blending samples, mixing, filtering, and chopping them so that he may reach the heights, each time out, of his masterwork “They Reminisce over You.”
It’s to his credit that this album is indeed on par with some of his best recordings, and occasionally surpasses them. A producer’s album by nature is going to be as consistent as its guests, and thankfully Rock has made some wise choices arranging his accomplices. The blaxploitation-funk of “Truth Is” opens the album and features spoken word poet Black Ice, who channels the spirit of Gil Scott-Heron throughout. Also special is the affecting R&B; cut “No Tears” with vocalist Leela James. But the main highlight here is the MCs. The underappreciated Pharoahe Monch brings his captivating sing-song flow to bear on the start-stop bump of “Just Do It”, while elsewhere we find the Dead Prez doing a political party jam (“Warzone”), RZA and GZA laying down shaolin-style soul on “Head Rush”, pure wordplay from Skillz on “One MC, One DJ,” and the mournful piano-laced street track “Beef” with Krumbsnatcha. But these are all, again, sidelights to Rock’s main stock in trade: pure soul brother hip-hop.
The satisfaction of hearing CL Smooth over a Pete Rock track is undiminished in the twelve years since their debut LP. “It’s a Love Thing” is a trademark CL loverman joint, and Rock’s vibraphone sample conjures up feelings of being caught in a warm summer rain without an umbrella. The album’s final track, the bittersweet recollection “Appreciate”, sounds fresh yet familiar. This nostalgic reminiscence reaffirms the duo’s importance with the subtle poignancy at the heart of every Pete Rock track. The best tracks on Soul Survivor II capture the same spirit that was in the air when Mecca and the Soul Brother blasted out of every boom box in the summer of 1992.
Reviewed by: David Drake
Reviewed on: 2004-05-11