Vinnie Paz, the Philadelphian front-man of the underground phenomenon known as Jedi Mind Tricks today releases his third solo album. Paz, who is known for his energetic voice, effortless delivery, and lyrics which mix religion, politics, and braggadocio elements, brings his usual content to this album and for the most part this LP is a satisfying listen. “The Cornerstone Of The Corner Store” does waver here and there – there’s some brilliance and some boredom, but overall this is a decent album from the artist formerly known as Ikon the Verbal Hologram.
With Paz declaring “this is how you supposed to rap” in the first song “Philo: Metatron: Wisdom”, this track really does grab the listener by the the collars and shakes them until they begin to nod their head. With mean lines like “the way to deal with Lady Liberty is by killing her”, mean production by Oh No, and mean vocals from Paz, this is exactly what his fans want. Songs like “The Void” with rugged production by D.I.T.C.’s Buckwild also perfectly match Vinnie’s vocals, and with Eamon giving a chorus that should satisfy both mainstream and underground Hip-Hop heads, this type of song is both typical and different – it also works as an introduction to the MC for anyone who doesn’t know who Vinnie Paz is…
That’s not to say that this album is flawless in any way, straight after the first two songs there’s “Steel Sharpens Steel”, and although Demoz gives humorous lines such as “Sucking more than bitches at a Hookah bar”, there’s an out-of-style 50-Cent-esque chorus and an average beat. The same goes for “Limb From Limb”, another average track with Paz even rapping a corny “twenty thou’ on my wrist” line.
Songs like “The Ghost I Used To Be” contain decent lyrics and a listenable beat by C-Lance, that is until the chorus which skirts on the edge of Hip-Pop. Compared to “The Void”, this is a much less successful chorus from Eamon – the “I’ve been working for the devil too long” part sounds great but everything that follows is mediocre. There’s also a horrible chorus in “Yev Kassem” and producer C-Lance lays down a Casio keyboard-esque sound on “Hakim” which does a disservice to the credibility of Paz not to mention D.I.T.C.’s A.G. and O.C.
For the most part however, “The Cornerstone Of The Corner Store” is pretty decent. Paz showcases his multi-syllabic flow on “Herringbone” up against Ghostface Killah, and there’s some great production in songs such as the early-nineties inspired track “Nineteen Ninety Three” with DJ Eclipse. “The Coffin” is another fantastic track thanks to the great production from Psycho Les of The Beatnuts and “Blood Addiction” is a brilliant ’80s-sounding song thanks to Alkota’s production which is like something from an Itallian Giallo film.
Speaking of production, the beats more often than not compliment Pazzy especially on gritty tracks like “Philo: Metatron: Wisdom” and “The Void”, there’s even something slightly different with the aforementioned “Blood Addiction” and “Gospel Of The Worm” which contains the sound of an electric guitar and the sample of Son Doobie during the chorus.
Out of the two rappers from Jedi Mind Tricks, Vinnie has been more successful with his solo albums but neither he nor Jus Allah has created something on the level of “Violent By Design” on their own, and this album is no different. Don’t get me wrong, there’s great stuff on here (“Philo: Metatron: Wisdom”, “The Void”, “The Coffin”, “Blood Addiction”, “Writings On Disobedience And Democracy”), there’s good stuff too (“Gospel Of The Worm”, “Nineteen Ninety Three”), but there’s also average stuff (“Ghost I Used To Be”, “Moroccan Jewels”, “Hebrew Tau”, “Pistolvania 2”, “Alcapurrias”) and even bad stuff (the production of “Hakim”, the chorus in “Yev Kassem”). But unfortunately even the best tracks on “The Cornerstone” aren’t on the level of Jedi Mind Tricks’ first two albums.
The other criticism I’d make is that this album as a whole doesn’t exactly flow from beginning to end, once it’s over you’d rather pick out the best songs and play them individually rather than the entire album. Also, it’s titled “The Cornerstone Of The Corner Store” but there’s no concrete concept, pardon the pun. In addition, this being the ex-Roman-Catholic and now Muslim Pistol Pazzy, there’s of course a slight peppering of homophobia on the LP, but since this has been one of Vinnie Paz’s usual topics this isn’t anything unusual or new. But that being said, this type of casual prejudice has started to feel uncomfortable not to mention out of style. I’ve been a big fan of Jedi Mind Tricks for twenty years but to hear the word “battyman” in three songs in 2016 has begun to sound strange and even slightly surreal. The other thing I’d add is that in an album that contains 19 tracks with 18 actual songs, a staggering 12 of them contain featured artists, and similar to Ras Kass‘ “Intellectual Property” this feels like too many for a solo LP. For me, the best songs are those Vinnie does without any featured artists, in any case his voice is so different to the majority of other rappers, that it would take someone like Lord Have Mercy, Sticky Fingaz, or M.O.P. to successfully gel with his raspy yet powerful vocal style.
To be honest this album was 6/10 for the first 16 tracks, and up to the point of “Yev Kassem” I’d written 6/10 on my notes. But I have to say that on the strength of the last three tracks, this LP is lifted by one whole point.
In a time of golden era old-school sounds, something like “Nineteen Ninety Three” sounds quite apt and it fits neatly into a post Beast Coast Zeitgeist. And while I’m talking about old school influenced songs, something like “Blood Addiction” which has an ’80s aesthetic accompanied by a ’10s chorus (not to mention it has no featured artists) – this juxtaposition ends up creating something that sounds very new. This type of track is what I’d like to hear more of, something to move Vinnie Paz on from the typical Army Of The Pharaohs sound.
Speaking historical truth in the final track “Writings On Disobedience And Democracy” and musing about war and politics, this closing joint is the stand-out song on the LP. Doing a “Nature Of The Threat” on U.S. history starting from the early twentieth century to the late twentieth century, this is just a marvellous song, even the changing production keeps this seven minute track from feeling too lengthy.
If you’re a fan of Vinnie Paz, Jedi Mind Tricks, or Army Of The Pharaohs, this album is a must especially considering the final two songs. Like I said, this LP isn’t “Violent By Design” but what is? And with mumble rap seemingly taking over the Hip-Hop genre this year, a faithful album like “The Cornerstone Of The Corner Store” really does fit a…