Half a decade ago, Canibus seemed poised to become one of rap's unlikeliest superstars. A Wyclef Jean protégé back when that meant something, the polysyllabic, science-loving battle-rapper invited LL Cool J's wrath through a legendary misunderstanding and was punished with a long banishment to professional purgatory. After being dropped from his label due to anemic sales and a bitter split with Jean, Canibus bottomed out with 2001's desperate C! True Hollywood Stories, which wasn't an album so much as a transparent career suicide attempt. But he rebounds with Rip The Jacker, which finds the sonic equivalent of Canibus' linguistic inventiveness in the eclectic production of Stoupe The Enemy Of Mankind, the resident beatsmith for underground favorite Jedi Mind Tricks. Canibus still occasionally sounds like a kid who spends his free time reading the dictionary, but the hard-won maturity on display here helps make Rip The Jacker his strongest, most consistent work to date. A shameless name-dropper, he references Noam Chomsky, Joseph Heller, Niels Bohr, and David Hume in his dense, challenging rhymes. But whereas Canibus has in the past been content to string together epic battle-raps, here he channels his intellect into crafting proper songs. Call it a comeback: Against daunting odds, Rip The Jacker makes Canibus relevant again, but it remains to be seen whether that will matter to a hip-hop community that long ago wrote him off as a self-destructive underachiever. Where Canibus is trying to reclaim even a fraction of his early fame and success, his labelmates in Jedi Mind Tricks are looking to expand their underground fan base with Visions Of Gandhi. The title of the duo's third album pays tribute to an enduring icon of passive resistance, but their lyrical output is characterized by over-the-top violence. A hilariously contradictory bundle of Muslim righteousness and unhinged rage, Jedi Mind Tricks rapper Vinnie Paz antagonizes Christians, big-ups Allah, and hurls invective at girlie-men who "like to sit around with women watching Will & Grace." Stoupe The Enemy Of Mankind dresses up Paz's charismatic, proudly sociopathic ramblings with mariachi horns, cinematic strings, Spanish-language choruses, and intriguingly obscure samples that suggest the producer has been digging deep in the same crates that fuel likeminded acts like Beatnuts. On "Rise Of The Machines," Stoupe samples a memorably deranged Mike Tyson monologue in which the fighter pledges to devour his opponent's children, then follows up with a shout-out to Allah. It's appropriate, as Paz and Tyson are both wildly entertaining loose cannons. As enthusiastic provocateurs, they're both bad spokesmen for Islam, but they're exceptionally good at being bad.

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