Lawrence “DJ Muggs” Muggerud has tremendous influence as a producer. As the producer/DJ for Cypress Hill, he has been instrumental in creating the legendary group’s sound that made them one of the best hip-hop groups to emerge during the 1990s. His use of dusty soul, jazz, and rock samples and his gritty aesthetic made him one of the best producers of the early ’90s.
Even while working behind the boards for Cypress Hill and establishing the Soul Assassins collective, he kept himself busy. He spearheaded a number of Souls Assassins compilations, produced for dozens of artists and mentored Alan “The Alchemist” Maman, one of the most gifted hip-hop producers working today. Muggs has spent most of the last 15 years working on collaborative projects with artists like GZA, Planet Asia, Sicken Jacken, Ill Bill, and Meyhem Lauren.
Muggs’ long and storied career has spawned many disciples. You can still hear his musical influence on the RZA’s production style, especially during the Wu-Tang Clan’s mid 1990s heyday. It’s also apparent not only in the beats by The Alchemist, but also eccentric producers like Madlib, and the down-and-dirty, rugged production styles of beatsmiths Daringer, DirtyDiggs, and Camouflage Monk.
Dia Del Asesinato (a.k.a. “Day of Murder”) is the third Soul Assassins compilation and Muggs’ first in nearly 20 years. In many respects, Dia Del Asesinato resembles an album produced by The Alchemist or recorded by the Conway and Westside Gunn’s of the world. At 12 tracks and close to 27 minutes in length, it’s notable for its brevity, and features songs that are almost entirely less than three minutes in length. Muggs might not be trailblazing as much as he used to, but in reinterpreting a sound he helped pioneer, he creates a very good album.
Muggs enlists an impressive roster of “street” rappers for Dia Del Asesinato, including both stalwarts like Kool G Rap, Raekwon, MF DOOM, and Freddie Gibbs, and more underground artists like Mach Hommy, Hus Kingpin, and Eto. Unlike previous Soul Assassins albums, which featured different artists on each track, many of the emcees here make multiple appearances. Given the brevity of many of the songs, this works well, as it allows these artists to shine over different types of production.
The album starts off on the right foot with “Day of the Dead,” a noisy guitar and drums-driven track featuring verses from the street-rhyme pioneer and quintessential emcee, Kool G Rap. G Rap is enjoying a bit of late career renaissance himself, and here he sounds adept delivering a rugged verse with his trademark rapid-fire flow, rapping “Got a plot to sever their heads ’til their nerves twitch / Hit ’em with words to these verses and they disperse quick.”
G Rap then teams with DOOM on the dark and eerie “Assassination Day.” The song was initially marketed as part of a two-song release by Muggs and DOOM, and while the Metal-Faced villain contributes a decent verse, G Rap is the star of the show, kicking lines like “Place is exquisite, safe with the digits, safe in the district / My paper straight, was makin' the difference, steak with some brisket.”
Two of the album’s high points are the pair of tracks featuring Raekwon. Muggs and Raekwon have worked together in the past, and the Shao-Lin legend continues to sound comfortable over all types of Muggs’ production. “Yacht Party” is a psychedelic-sounding solo exhibition for Raekwon, as he takes it back to the Wu-Gambino, kicking that marvelous fly shit over a filtered loop. Muggs goes the drum-less production route, letting the often lush but at times muffled flutes, guitars and keys shine on their own.
Meanwhile, “Black Snow Beach,” a team-up featuring Raekwon and Queens’ Meyhem Lauren, sports a string loop and crunchy drums that sound at home with the early Wu-Tang flying guillotine days, with the Chef rapping, “I’m Willie Hutch with a Dutch; we like the Panthers, n***a / Blow every stove to the stage up; advance me, n***as.”
The elusive and mysterious Mach Hommy appears on a pair of tracks well, further demonstrating his lyrical acumen. “Blue Horseshoes” is the most traditionally structured song on Dia Del Asesinato, as Hommy kicks a pair of verses, complete with a memorable hook. Production-wise, it’s not nearly as accessible, featuring Hommy rhyming with a layer of static and distortion over his vocals, rhyming over what sounds like warped guitars and horns and a thundering drum track. “Contagion Theory” is a musically mellower affair, but subject matter-wise delves deeper, as Hommy kicks laid-back lyrics about the contagious nature of poverty over a one to two bar horn snippet.
Muggs does make the drumless production work when he opts for it on Dia Del Asesinato. The lack of drums accentuates the unorthodox vocal sample Hus Kingpin rhymes over on “Wally Face.” The album ends with “Death Wish,” a track that teams DOOM with Freddie Gibbs that possesses a similar sinister vibe as “Assassination Day.” Here Gibbs shines, telling of keeping a .38 in a Ninja Turtles backpack and rapping, “My bottom line and my revenue, man that's the only thing that ever resonates / Larry Fishburne, Deep Cover hoe, sit back and watch a n***a medicate.”
This album is the first entry of a “comeback year” for Soul Assassins. Muggs is also producing Elephants On Acid, the first Cypress Hill album in nearly a decade, due in late September. Here’s hoping it will be as interesting and sonically unique as Dia Del Asesinato, because the world can always use more dope DJ Muggs production.
Notable Tracks: “Black Snow Party” | “Blue Horseshoes” | “Day of the Dead” | “Yacht Party”