If Mobb Deep's The Infamous was the quintessential Queens album of the '90s, consider Gems From the Equinox the closest thing to its modern-day, slightly less grimy counterpart.
Proud borough products Meyhem Lauren and DJ Muggs bring the goods on this 11-track effort four years in the making, coupling braggadocio street gems with a psychedelic, ominous and bombastic production bouillabaisse from a beatsmith who's made reinvention an effortlessly regular occurrence. Whether Muggs serves him with a reconfigured Five Stairsteps sample ("Street Religion") or antique guitar breaks ("Hashashin"), Mey blesses each track with an airtight flow and first-rate flexing. "The fly shit I rock could give life to dead presidents," he boasts on the latter cut, all while evoking the Big Apple's seedy, rotten core.
While Conway, Roc Marciano, Benny the Butcher and a vintage verse from the late Sean Price all help Gems live up to its title and bolster its New York pedigree, the LP suffers some friendly fire in the form of lazy bars from Action Bronson ("Szechuan Peppercorns" and "Tension") and Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire ("Aquatic Violence"). Still, Laurenovici and Muggs valiantly lead the New York charge with no shortage of bangers at a time when the city finds itself in dire need of a torchbearer. (Soul Assassins Records)