Jaded Rhymes, Big Names Only Shine on Paper

Strong Arm Steady

In Search of Stoney Jackson

Blacksmith

California natives Strong Arm Steady combine with Stones Throw prophet Madlib for In Search of Stoney Jackson. With a super-alliance between World Famous Beat Junkie J Rocc, emcee heavyweights Talib Kweli, Phonte and a host of no-names, Jackson shapes up to be a killer Cali classic in the press release — but the final product is a slightly different story.

SAS rappers Krondon, Phil da Agony and Mitchy Slick were handed a platter of J Rocc’s 200 finest recipes for their soundtrack, with Madlib in the producer’s seat, and everything starts out promising. “Best of Times” lays down a chunky bass-guitar groove atop a one-two snare ‘n’ bass beat — all wrung together with a high-to-low synth progression. The syrupy melody is complemented by Phonte’s expertise: “Got workers losing they jobs and they residence/ And overseas niggaz filin’ out, straight wildin’ out/ Throwin’ they shoes at the President.”

“Cheeba Cheeba” starts with finger snaps over dull bass and distorted Motown violin, and Krondon whimsically attempts to forecast another Acid Raindrops: “All my niggaz smoke Swishers/ Like old men playing Checkers on a park bench like Bobby Fisher.” Yeah, that’s exactly what it feels like.

Madlib pays service to Dilla on “Chittlins & Pepsi,” a feel-good funk romp painted with trumpet, chopped violin and a breezy harmonized chorus — something that would fit right in on Donuts. This golden-age inspiration continues into “Get Started,” a head-bumping gem of a jam, reminiscent of Jazzy Jeff’s “Summertime.” Piano and hi-hat rush through high-speed clashes as Talib Kweli shines over his West Coast counterparts: “We takin’ over back to work like my break is over/ Next up Steady Arms and Hammers like baking soda.”

“True Champs” is an old-school triumph — a rousing, orchestral sample cut into pieces across a timeless staccato loop. But it’s butchered by Krondon’s rhyme schemes: “When opportunity knocks I invite him in/ My flow is hard to swallow like a vitamin.” Stoney Jackson’s mediocrity can be summed up in “Bark Like a Dog,” a bass drum-heavy headache topped off by an appalling chorus and chaotic guitar sample.

There are lots of nice reasons to like Jackson, but that’s its problem: It never supersedes that. Beats loosen necks, but never break them, and guest emcees prove more listenable than the SAS crew itself. It should be judged as an ensemble piece, even if it is no greater than the sum of its parts.

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