In the opening moments of God of the Serengeti, Vinnie Paz, the voice behind Jedi Mind Tricks, reminds us who’s in charge with a sample from what sounds like an old Hollywood epic involving a newly crowned King scolding his followers for questioning the authority of his predecessor. It sets the stage appropriately for the veteran MC’s trademark rugged, paternalistic, even Pharoah-like vocal presence on his sophomore effort.

Like his debut Season of the Assassin, God of the Serengeti is a hip-hop star-studded affair, with appearances by the likes of Immortal Technique, DJ Premier, Kool G Rap, Mobb Deep, Scarface, La Coka Nostra, Marco Polo, and R.A. The Rugged Man, to name a few. Those features work in Paz’s favor, as they break the monotony of his rugged delivery while not overshadowing his vocal presence.

The production on God of the Serengeti is strong across the board. Contributions by both newcomers like C-Lance and mainstays like DJ Premier, Havoc and Psycho Les of The Beatnuts add to the album’s versatility and appeal. The vast majority of the music is sinister and gritty. When combined with Paz’s raspy, rapid-fire delivery, it creates a fitting tone reminiscent of Big Pun’s relentlessness on tracks like “Beware” and “The Dream Shatterer.” This is no accident, as Paz himself calls the album a tribute to the late Bronx MC.

Paz’s bars consistently balance mindless violence with clever wordplay, and common topics include history, religion, decapitation, and tragedies involving planes. On “And Your Blood Will Blot Out the Sun,” the Roman-Catholic born Sunni Muslim convert raps confusingly, “A nation of intellectuals, a nation of thugs/Jesus is hate, a nation of Satan is love!” On “Slum Chemist,” he raps: “You should never fuck with the Monster (Vinnie P)/You’ll crash like la la la bamba,” referring—of course—to the untimely death of songwriter Ritchie Valens by plane crash on what has become referred to as “The Day the Music Died.” On “Jake LaMotta”—which features one of the brighter backdrops—Paz speaks on how good he feels and how well all of the people in his life are doing. But, as expected, before the end of the first verse, he is already, “Knock[ing] buildings over like [he] was Osama on flights.”

While Paz’s raspy flow and violent imagery are generally coherent and amusing enough, there are a few head-scratchers sprinkled throughout. Such as, ”I don’t believe in crying at all/I’m a manic depressive—never get excited at all,” and, “The bible is gone/you are watching a Viking perform,” on "Cheesesteaks."

While God of the Serengeti doesn’t blaze any new ground, it is a release that will hold up to the Paz’s legacy on the underground scene and will surely satisfy long-time fans. —Nick De Molina (@odmod)