Various Artists

It’s hard to listen to the soundtrack for the second Blade installment without being reminded of the discs that accompanied 1993’s Judgment Night and 1997’s Spawn. Those efforts paired motley crews of metallic moshers with rappers and beat farmers, respectively. That the CDs were light years better than their cinematic counterparts isn’t saying much — neither broke any real ground. Collaborations that looked irresistible on paper (Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill! Slayer and Atari Teenage Riot!) produced no music worth recalling.

The same somewhat sleepy concept is given a postmodern spin on Blade II, on which Judgement Night and Spawn executive producer Happy Walters couples high-caliber MCs with the electronica elite. The formula thrills on occasion: Mos Def hooks up with Massive Attack on the brilliant “I Against I,” showcasing the possibilities that exist for an album-length experiment of this nature. The Roots team with BT for “Tao of the Machine,” which strays far from the Philly hip-hop outfit’s origins and into a tangerine dream of seething ecstasy. Similarly, Roni Size slips a mickey to Cypress Hill’s stoned lollygaging, serving up a brain-bending smart drink of intergalactic derivation.

But the artists who fail most spectacularly refuse to get with the collaborative spirit, handing in textbook rhymes that fail to nudge the envelope even a millimeter. Busta Rhymes deserves a conservationist award from Greenpeace for blatantly recycling the hook from KRS One’s “I’m Still #1” on “The One.” Fabolous tries to shine but merely bling-blings on “We Be Like This.” And on the Paul Oakenfold-produced “Right Here, Right Now,” Ice Cube’s artistic free fall, which began shortly after 1991’s stunning Death Certificate, plumbs new depths. The gone-Hollywood Cube still possesses one of rap’s most powerful voices, but it’s wasted on posturing gangsta thuggisms.

If the Spawn and Judgement Night opuses offered sad-but-true glimpses of rock-rap’s bootylicious future, Blade II provides a possible peep at the next school of thought, where left-of-center underdogs rise to the top of the class, and former A-students have their hall passes revoked.

Categories: Music