Killarmy are famous for incorporating military conflicts, terrorism, and war movie sound-bites into their music. Their song “War Face” for example (which appeared in their debut album), referenced and sampled the drill sergeant from Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam film Full Metal Jacket. Almost 23 years after the release of their first LP, the group drop their fourth studio album titled Full Metal Jackets but this time around things are a little different since much has changed within the group. Firstly and most noticeably is the production. Instead of 4th Disciple (who produced the majority of Killarmy’s debut album Silent Weapons For Quiet Wars) Full Metal Jackets is almost entirely produced by member 9th Prince (he is responsible for 9 of the 11 tracks). RZA and Mathematics (who produced a couple of the songs in Silent Weapons and follow-up album Dirty Weaponry respectively) are also nowhere to be seen… or should I say heard. On top of that, Killa Sin (one of the best rappers of Killarmy) is currently in prison after being convicted of criminal weapons possession in 2015. This means that artistically, Full Metal Jackets isn’t a proper Killarmy album in either the rap or the production front.
The album starts with what sounds like a tacked-on intro (titled “The Virus”) a clip of a news report about the Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic. Needless to say, this was probably not part of the album during its recording and it unfortunately sounds like an afterthought. After that attempt at being current, we have non-stop, mid-tempo tracks featuring a host of outside artists. I have to admit that some of my favourite rappers of all time including Timbo King, Masta Ace, Stic.Man, Killah Priest, and La The Darkman are on this album but they don’t necessarily conjure-up the feeling of Killarmy which is a distinct sound both lyrically and sonically.
It’s nice to hear Islord’s matter-of-fact delivery in “Cinema Sinister” or 9th Prince’s RZA-like delivery when he raps “At night I sleep with my lady, her name is M-16” in “Mediterranean Flow” but these flashes of old-school Killarmy are few and far between. Featured artist Willie Da Kid brings some great military raps with mentions of “Pakistan” and “Pillaging” in “Cinema Sinister” but for the most part the lyrics are unfocused given the group’s chosen aesthetic and the album’s title.
“Musical Terrorist” produced by Cobra Sounds mentions Killa Sin and fellow Wu Affiliate Shyheim’s incarceration (Shyheim was released earlier this year according to news sources) but there’s an awful hook which ruins the song. The best lyrics in the entire album come from dead prez’ Stic.Man who raps the following in “Just Like Prison”: “Without wisdom you a prisoner, if you lead by emotions; you a prisoner, if slaved by addiction you a prisoner…. you ain’t got to be locked up to be in prison. If you’re mentally in bondage what’s the difference? Ignorance is big business.”
In terms of production, the first song “Combat Neurosis” (featuring ElCamino) contains a one-note “hmmm” sound akin to Method Man’s “Bring The Pain” but there’s also a jarring vocal sample during the chorus. This song also has 9th Prince shouting “New Killarmy… produced by 9th Prince!” which makes this release sound like a mixtape. “Cinema Sinister” featuring Willie Da Kid & William Cooper incorporates what sounds like a Star Wars sample which further removes the whole “on-world” conflict concept, not to mention the opening virus theme. “Rusty Dangs” featuring Planet Asia & Ras Kass contains a digital snare hit that makes the track sound more Disco than Boom Bap and “Mediterranean Flow” sports some heavy bass and tom drums but with a chopped vocal sample and a cut-off Capadonna verse it wanders into amateur territory.
Thankfully “Wake Up Pt 2” (featuring Ill Bill & Killah Priest and 60 Second Assassin of Sunz Of Man) features the same sample as “Wake Up” from Silent Weapons (“The Lonely Man Theme” from the 1970s TV show The Incredible Hulk). Since this joint is produced by Beast rather than 9th Prince, it seems that an outside producer knows how to evoke the sound of Killarmy more than an actual member. The album ends with “Living Legends” featuring Prodigal Sunn of Sunz Of Man which is unfortunately a forgettable song. This final track at least closes with a sample from the film Full Metal Jacket.
The standout tracks are “Combat Neurosis”, “Cinema Sinister”, “Just Like Prison” & “Star Wars” (for the featured artist verses), and “Wake Up Pt. II” which should have been the closing track in my opinion. If you were a fan of the group’s debut LP, the lack of military samples such as “Suicide Is Painless” from M*A*S*H (“5 Stars”) and unexpected vocal samples like “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” (“Blood For Blood”) means this album will leave fans hungry for ’90s hardcore nostalgia. The unapologetically non-mainstream lyrics of Killarmy’s debut (“Puerto-Rican Terrorist from the Middle East refusing the mark of the beast”, “The mission be assassination, snipers hitting Caucasians”, “I got a war-plan more deadlier than Hitler”, and “attack the Pentagon with unorthodox firearms from Vietnam”) is nonexistent here. And without Killa Sin’s smooth delivery and flawless flow there’s a few lyrical ingredients missing from this album no matter how satisfactory the overall MRE meal is.
With two above-average albums and one disappointment to their name, Killarmy’s latest release is somewhere in-between. The good news is that the problems aren’t vast which means this is a listenable album but conversely, the issues are quite obvious which means they’re hard to ignore. Firstly, 9th Prince’s production consists of Fruity Loops beats and chopped soul samples which begin to sound repetitive very quickly and the news/film samples don’t have the same effect as 4th Disciple’s use of news footage and movie clips. There’s also too many featured artists and in many cases the first voice you hear in a song is not a member of Killarmy which makes the album sound like a compilation rather than an LP from one single group. Along with the comic book/cartoon album artwork, Full Metal Jackets just doesn’t feel like Silent Weapons or Dirty Weaponry. At just over 35 minutes long, it’s also possibly too short but that’s a personal preference depending on whether you really enjoy or really dislike this release.
Killarmy were one of the most impressive Wu-Tang affiliates after Gravediggaz, The Orphanage, and La The Darkman, especially because of their unique Military Rap aesthetic which was distinctive within the Wu who were known more for Kung-Fu film-sampling and later Mafioso Hip-Hop. Like Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, Killarmy’s Full Metal Jackets is not the artist’s best work. After the bullying of Gomer Pyle, Kubrick’s film descended into an unfocussed, standardised, and ultimately pointless war film. This album similarly goes through the motions of a typical Hip-Hop album; it’s just random topics, random rappers, and uninteresting and monotonous production track after track. That being said, there’s no selling out here; no R&B hooks or auto-tune for instance, just rugged beats and raw rhymes but that’s all this is. This isn’t the horrors of war or the violence of terrorism, this is like a re-enactment of war during peace time.
Almost-Full Metal Jacket.